The Gophers don’t want it to be the elephant in the locker room. The idea of playing in volleyball’s Final Four in their own city, next weekend at Target Center, is too meaningful a goal to ignore or downplay.
Still, it can be a delicate balancing act to keep the anxiety level low when the ambition is so high. That will be part of the Gophers’ task Friday, when they face Oregon in the regional semifinals at Maturi Pavilion. Nebraska and Kentucky meet in the other semifinal, with the winners playing Saturday for a Final Four berth.
As Gophers fans grow more excited at the possibility of watching the Gophers pursue a title at Target Center, coach Hugh McCutcheon is trying to manage those outside expectations. He’s also counting on the Gophers’ ability to focus tightly on the job at hand.
“One thing this group has been really good at is playing things one at a time,” McCutcheon said. “As much as we know what we want, we don’t want that to get in the way of what we have to do to get there.
“We’ll just try to manage this thing as best we can — point to point, set to set, match to match — and understand we’ve still got a ton of work. There are four really good teams coming in here this weekend.”
The Gophers are the No. 2 seed in the tournament, and their regional is the only one that includes four seeded teams. Oregon is No. 15, Nebraska is No. 7 and Kentucky is No. 10.
Sophomore outside hitter Stephanie Samedy said the Gophers do talk about making it to Target Center, but not to the point of distraction.
“We don’t spend too much time on it,” she said. “We just really focus on what we need to do in order to actually be able to be in the Final Four.”
Tickets nearly gone
Though the Final Four teams won’t be decided until this weekend, tickets are in short supply.
Kim Insley of Sports Minneapolis, which is helping to stage the event, said Wednesday that “literally a handful” of obstructed-view and standing-room tickets remain for the championship match on Dec. 15. There are about 200 tickets left for the semifinal matches Dec. 13. Target Center’s seating capacity is 19,356.
Awards keep coming
A week after collecting the Big Ten’s two highest honors in their sport, McCutcheon and Samantha Seliger-Swenson won the same categories — coach of the year and player of the year — in the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s All-North Region awards announced Tuesday.
The Gophers put six players on the All-North Region team. That tied Stanford, the tournament’s No. 1 seed, for the most all-region honorees of any team in the country. Seliger-Swenson, a senior setter, was joined by Samedy, Alexis Hart, Adanna Rollins, Taylor Morgan and Regan Pittman on the All-North Region team. Rollins was named the region’s freshman of the year.
Not just the games
Sports Minneapolis announced Wednesday that several activities during Final Four week will be open to the public.
The four participating teams will hold open practices at Target Center next Wednesday at 10 a.m., 11:35 a.m., 1:20 p.m. and 2:55 p.m. Before Thursday’s semifinals, there will be a pep rally for each team at The Pourhouse Downtown beginning at 4 p.m. Fans also can welcome the two finalists to the arena before Saturday’s championship match at a red-carpet arrival event starting at 6 p.m.
The Under Armour Girls High School All-America match, featuring 24 of the best high school seniors in the nation, will be Dec. 14 at 8 p.m. at Target Center. A pair of players from Champlin Park, Izzy Ashburn and Lauren Clark, will participate. Admission is $10.