The dream of playing for a championship in Minneapolis ended Friday as the Gophers' volleyball team was eliminated in the Sweet Sixteen after being upset by Oregon (23-10) in four sets: 25-21, 41-39, 25-14 and 26-24.
This is the second consecutive season Minnesota was eliminated in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s disappointing, obviously for a lot of reasons,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “Sometimes when you compete for a living, it doesn’t work out the way you want.”
Minnesota (27-4) came into Friday’s match undefeated at home, having only lost three matches all year. They had lost once already to Oregon in September.
Although the Gophers didn’t win the match, everything was going their way as the team was in a prime position to go up 2-0 in the match.
As Minnesota led 38-37 outside hitter Alexis Hart was set up perfectly for a kill, which appeared to end the set. Oregon challenged that a dig by setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson hit the ground before Hart ended the set, and the call was overturned.
“I thought [Seliger-Swenson] was pretty confident that she pancaked that ball, and that we got it. So, we thought we’d won it,” McCutcheon said.
That overturned call was the turning point for Oregon as it won the 80-point set 41-39 and tied the match up at one.
Oregon head coach Matt Ulmer said the successful challenge that led to the set victory changed the entire match.
“I think winning the second set was important for us, and to them I think they had a hard time responding to that,” Ulmer said.
Minnesota came into the third set hoping to rebound, but the momentum the Ducks carried over was too much as they took a 10-2 lead.
“I didn’t think we responded particularly well,” McCutcheon said. “It took us a while to recover.”
Oregon went onto take the third set 25-14, but the Gophers surged late to try to make the set competitive.
After converting 25 kills in the second set the Gophers were held to nine in the third and had a hitting percentage of .111.
“They figured out our tendency and I mean, we were just hitting low,” middle blocker Taylor Morgan said.
After the Gophers took a quick 1-0 lead, they had their backs against the wall as Oregon was one set away from ending Minnesota's season.
After starting with a four-point lead, momentum and the atmosphere looked to be shifting in favor of the Gophers. Oregon, however, was resilient and battled back.
With the fourth set tied at 19 the Gophers looked like they were going to pull away from the Ducks after a 3-0 run, but Oregon’s resilience was too much as it took the set 26-24 and ended the Gophers season.
“It’s important to get these matches against the best teams, which Minnesota definitely is. Maybe the best in the country,” Ulmer said.
For the Gophers even though they fell short of the goal, the well-balanced offensive machine was apparent throughout the match as Seliger-Swenson, in her final match as a volleyball player at Minnesota, collected 55 assists to five separate players, four of which had over 10 kills.
Hart led the team with 20 kills.
“I thought we deserved a chance to compete at the end of this thing, but that’s not going to be our lot in life, so we got to deal with what is, and we move on,” McCutcheon said.
After going 19-1 in the Big Ten the Gophers will return every starter, except Big Ten player of the year Seliger-Swenson next season.
Oregon will look to advance to the Final Four as the Ducks take on Nebraska on Saturday at the Maturi Pavilion.