The best 64 teams in the country make the NCAA tournament and compete for a national championship. Two years in a row, the Gophers have gone to the tournament and reached the Final Four.
They hope this year will be different.
The No. 8 Gophers (25-4, 14-4 Big Ten) wrap up the 2017 regular season Friday and Saturday with home matches against Rutgers and No. 1 Penn State.
Junior Samantha Seliger-Swenson said that Minnesota could get back to the Final Four and do more this time around, but stressed that they aren’t looking that far ahead.
“We’ve worked really hard, so we will see what happens,” Seliger-Swenson said. “We’re really not looking too far into the NCAA Tournament yet because we have two matches this weekend.”
Minnesota’s 25-4 record is similar to what it was the last two years. In 2015, Minnesota was 24-4 with two matches remaining in the regular season. In 2016, they were 23-4 with two matches remaining.
There is one key difference between those teams, however. This year’s version is a lot younger. They rely heavily on production from freshmen.
“The best thing about our senior class is how we try to integrate our freshmen and sophomores to what we do,” senior Dalianliz Rosado said. “They’re a big part of what we do. I think we do a good job at being one instead of dividing.”
Head coach Hugh McCutcheon said he doesn’t think his team’s lack of experience will be a problem. He thinks his youthful team brings an enhanced ability to get better.
“Mainly because they’re a little younger than the last couple of years, they have a greater capacity for improvement,” McCutcheon said. “We’re able to make changes that can have a significant impact on the result.”
If the Gophers are going to be successful in the postseason, the returning players will have to use the experience they have received during the last two trips to the final four. Rosado has been a part of both Final Four teams and said every year is a new year, but getting there twice does motivate her to get back and hopefully have more success.
The Gophers will also have to keep doing the same things that have allowed them to be successful so far. One of these things is preparing for playoff games the same as they have for every other game.
“We need to prepare like we usually do,” Rosado said. “[We need to continue] studying the other team, watching videos, getting to practice and getting better every day.”
This Saturday, Minnesota plays No. 1 Penn State. It’s a perfect opportunity to continue to improve and gain some momentum going into the NCAA tournament.
“Hopefully we’re not relying on these last two to get confident,” McCutcheon said. “One thing I’ve liked about our team is that over the course of the season, we’ve made improvement every week and it’d be nice to see if that’s a recurring theme again this week.”