AUSTIN, TEXAS – The Gophers, whose season was on the brink of extinction one week ago, are headed to the NCAA Volleyball Final Four.
The No. 7-seeded Gophers swept Louisville 25-21, 25-14, 25-16 Saturday night to earn their sixth trip to the national semis, this time to Pittsburgh, where they face No. 3 seed and defending champion Stanford on Thursday. The Gophers were there last in 2016.
“I’m very proud of our team and excited,” Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon said.
Minnesota (27-5) nearly didn’t make it to Austin. During the second round, the Gophers were down two match points in the fourth set vs. Creighton at home but had the composure to rally to win in five.
“We are very mature,” said Gophers outside hitter Alexis Hart, a senior who played on the 2016 NCAA semifinal team.
Adanna Rollins had 12 kills and nine digs for Minnesota with .379 hitting and was chosen the regional’s most outstanding player. Hart and Stephanie Samedy had nine kills apiece. Taylor Morgan and Regan Pittman had six blocks apiece. Kylie Miller recorded 28 assists.
Aiko Jones led Louisville (22-10), which upset host Texas on Friday, with 13 kills.
The Gophers hit .284 while stifling Louisville, limiting the Cardinals to .067.
All that aside, McCutcheon said a critical asset was serving, not just on Saturday, when the Gophers had nine aces, but also during a five-set win against Florida on Friday.
“I thought our serve was really the key to the game,” McCutcheon said. “And that seemed to be a strength of ours all weekend.”
When a reporter suggested that the Gophers are known more for consistency than aggressiveness in serving, McCutcheon could not disagree.
“Tactical and intentional, I guess, are the adjectives I’ve used,” McCutcheon said. “There’s a fine line between being aggressive and being reckless.”
The Gophers led nearly the entire first set, falling behind only once at 13-14. They outhit Louisville .310 to .128.
Rollins, an outside hitter, was all over the court with five kills — and .417 efficiency — and four digs.
“She carries a significant load for our team as a six-rotation outside hitter,” McCutcheon said. “The fact that as a sophomore she’s able to do the things she does consistently, that speaks to the caliber of volleyball player she is.”
Samedy and Hart recorded four kills apiece, each with .300 or better accuracy in that first set.
Louisville had a chance when a kill by Jones left the Cardinals trailing 22-21. But her teammate, Amaya Tillman, made a hitting error, Pittman served an ace, and a wall of Gophers blocked Amber Stivrins for the final point.
The Gophers pulled away in the second set with 10-2 tear that provided a 22-12 lead. Rollins made five kills in the set, and the Gophers served four aces.
The Gophers hit only .219 in the set, but they were much better than Louisville, which could muster only .026.
Samedy had four kills in the final set. Minnesota outhit Louisville .321 to .029 and had four of its nine aces.
So on they go, to Pittsburgh. Rollins, an unassuming, soft-spoken type, is ready.
“Really excited,” Rollins said. “I love this group.”
• Rollins, Hart and Miller made the all-tournament team along with Jones and Tori Dilfer of Louisville, Rachael Kramer of Florida and Logan Eggleston of Texas. Rollins was chosen Most Outstanding Player.
Austin Regional final: Gophers 3, Louisville 0
Thursday: Gophers vs. Stanford, 8:30 p.m. in Pittsburgh (ESPN)