The Minnesota Gophers volleyball team advances to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 after holding off a valiant Colorado Buffaloes team and winning in five sets at the Sports Pavilion on Saturday. The Gophers won the first two sets, but the Buffaloes stampeded back into the match before eventually falling in five — 25-20, 25-18, 17-25, 21-25, and 15-9.
After a back-and-forth beginning in the first set, Minnesota was able close out the Buffaloes, 25-20. Sophomore libero Lindsey Lawmaster had two aces in the set to help the Gophers to the win. Minnesota was plagued early in the game by service errors, but righted the ship with Lawmaster’s help.
The strength and physicality of Colorado shined in the second set. With the Buffaloes leading 11-8 at one point, Minnesota head coach Hugh McCutcheon was forced to take a timeout and refocus his troops. The stoppage worked and the Gophers would cruise through the rest of the frame on a 17-7 run — including six-straight points in one stretch.
McCutcheon stressed the serve, receive part of the game throughout the year and Minnesota definitely had the advantage in the second set. Sophomore outside hitter Daly Santana continued her tremendous play on the service line once again after a rough start. She was the force behind a six point run for the Gophers — which included back-to-back aces.
Colorado did not mess around in the set No. 3. The Buffaloes quickly took a 7-1 lead and never allowed the Gophers to regroup. Minnesota could not get any momentum and would only muster a handful of two-point stretches in the stanza. Colorado would win the third set, which included a six point run of their own.
Leading the way for Colorado in the match were setter Nicole Edelman and middle blocker Nikki Lindow. Edelman would lead all players on the night with 50 assists. In her final match with the Buffaloes, the senior Lindow, had a match-high six block assists and added in 10 kills for her team.
Needing to push hard to force a fifth set, Colorado played some impressive volleyball in the fourth set to tie the match at two games apiece. Minnesota never had the lead in the fourth frame and the Buffaloes forced the Maroon and Gold into five attack errors in the set.
“In the fifth, I think we were able to assert ourselves on the service line,” McCutcheon said. “That gave us the chance to find some good sideout rhythm after that.”
Minnesota ended up with 10 aces on the night, with Santana leading the way with four. The biggest ace came from senior middle blocker Tori Dixon in the fifth and final set. Her one-timer from the service line gave the Gophers a 6-3 advantage and they never looked back.
Dixon would finish tied with fellow senior Ashley Wittman with 19 kills on the evening to lead all scorers. Wittman recorded her fifteenth double-double on the season with 12 digs to accompany her season high kill mark of 19 — she also recorded 19 kills at home against Nebraska earlier in the year.
Colorado ended up out-blocking the Gophers on the night to a 12-8 advantage, but Minnesota received performed well offensively and defensively from Hannah Tapp and Adrianna Nora — who each had double-digit point totals in the match.
With the win, the No. 10 ranked Gophers improve to 29-6 on the season and will play No. 7 Stanford in the Sweet 16. The next round match is scheduled for Dec. 13 in Lexington, Ky. — a familiar place for the Gophers this season, having played in that building earlier in the fall against Louisville and the home Wildcats.