After overcoming injuries, five-set battles and the grueling Big Ten schedule, the Gophers' volleyball team is moving on to the NCAA Final Four, beating Louisville in straight sets on Saturday: 25-21, 25-14 and 25-16.
"Awesome, it's unreal. We've been really focusing on this goal for a long time, for a long time, so I just think we're really excited," said outside hitter Adanna Rollins.
Ahead of the Sweet Sixteen matchup against Florida, head coach Hugh McCutcheon said while he liked Minnesota defensively against most teams, they needed to produce on the offensive end. In the win over Florida, offensive production wasn't an issue. Four Minnesota players finished with double-digit kills and the team hit .331 on the night.
Minnesota continued to be productive on the offensive end in the sweep over Louisville.
"It starts with the pass. I think our passers have been doing a really good job," Rollins said. "And Kylie [Miller] just connecting with us a lot, I think we just have been able to score points and she's been able to put up a good ball for us."
Minnesota opened the first set 3-0 and outside hitter Alexis Hart already had three kills by Minnesota's first rotation change. Louisville recovered, taking a 14-13 lead, their first of the set. Opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy tied it at 14 with a kill, and jump-started a 3-0 Gophers run. Despite a late Louisville push, the Gophers successfully sided out and closed the set blocking a Louisville attempt.
All season long McCutcheon has also stressed the importance of serving, an added bonus for the Gophers in a dominant second set. Defensive specialist Rachel Kilkelly landed the first ace of the set as Minnesota took an early 2-1 lead. Samedy followed suit, dropping back-to-back aces. Minnesota took a 15-10 lead and forced a Louisville timeout. Out of the timeout, middle blocker Regan Pittman and setter Kylie Miller stopped back-to-back Louisville attempts, and fittingly, Miller closed out the second with an ace.
With their season on the line, Louisville fought to tie the third at 12; however, the Gophers proved to be too much for Louisville to handle, both offensively and defensively. Minnesota went on a 7-0 run, stopping nearly every Louisville attempt. The Gophers finished the night with 12 blocks. Rollins dropped her team-high 12th kill as Minnesota took a 22-16 lead, and followed it with an ace. Two Louisville misfires closed out the match. The Gophers are returning to the Final Four, beating Louisville in three after back-to-back five-set matches.
"We'll do anything to win. It was nice to win it in three," Rollins said. "We were really focused, not saying we weren't when we went to five, but I think we just really handled business and that helped us win it."
Joining Minnesota in the Final Four is Big Ten rival, No. 4 Wisconsin who will play No. 1 Baylor. The Gophers will play No. 3 Stanford for a spot in the championship. The Gophers beat Stanford 3-1 on Sept. 14.