Minnesota 3, Southern California 1

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LONG BEACH, CA Fourth-seed Minnesota (33-4) defeated two-time defending national champion Southern California (23-6) 30-25, 29-31, 30-26, 30-20 in the second semifinal match of the NCAA Division I Womens Volleyball Championship in front of 8,339 fans at the Long Beach Arena on Dec. 16.

Minnesota will face Stanford (29-6) in the NCAA championship match on Dec. 18 at 1 p.m. PT. The Gophers will be making their first title match appearance, while Stanford will appear in its 11th championship match. USC, the eighth seed in the tournament, was striving to become the first team to win three consecutive NCAA Division I Womens Volleyball Championships.

Minnesotas Erin Martin produced a match-tying high 18 kills to go with six blocks. Meredith Nelson charted 13 kills with six blocks in the victory, while Trisha Bratford collected 13 kills and three blocks. Paula Gentil passed out 33 digs on defense, while Lindsey Taatjes continued her postseason offensive fireworks with nine kills, 20 assists, seven blocks, 18 digs and two aces. Jessy Jones totaled nine kills with a .412 attack percentage for the Gophers, while Bowman chipped in 38 assists and 14 digs.

USC was led by Keao Burdines 18 kills and 26 digs, while Bibiana Candelas hit .312 with 13 kills. Sarah Florian contributed 12 kills and 16 digs as part of a double-double, while Emily Adams amassed 10 kills on the night. Trojan libero Debora Seilhamer charted 28 digs on defense, while Staci Venski added nine kills on offense. Alicia Robinson was credited with five kills in the loss.

Minnesota hit .214 as a team and held the Trojans to a .132 team attack percentage. The Gophers held a 17-5 team block advantage for the match, in addition to a slim 98-92 margin in team digs.

USC advanced to the semifinal round by virtue of its five-game win over Nebraska in the region final. Minnesota advanced to the semifinals after defeating Ohio State in five games.

Minnesota broke a 23-all tie in game one by outscoring the Trojans 7-2 with three kills from Bratford. USC battled back from deficits of 5-0 and 8-3 to win 31-29 in evening the match at one game each. The Gophers controlled the early stages of game three with a 7-2 start, weathered a Trojan comeback that put Minnesota in a four-point hole at 20-16 and finished on a 10-2 high note to win the stanza 30-26.

Burdine got USC on the scoreboard first, but Taatjes scored three quick kills and an ace as Minnesota went up 5-2. The Gophers upped the advantage to 7-3 on a kill by Nelson and an ace by Marci Peniata. The Women of Troy scored three successive points to cut the margin to 7-6, only to see Minnesota go on a 3-1 run taking a 10-7 advantage. Martin scored three kills during a 4-1 Gopher run as Minnesota inched their lead to 15-11. The Trojans whittled their deficit to 19-18 capped by an Adams kill on an overpass. USC tied the game at 20-20 on a Burdine-Adams block. Minnesota inched the lead up to 23-21 on a Martin kill and Trojan attack error. USC tied the game at 23-all on consecutive Gopher errors. Nelson, Jones and Bratford tallied kills in a 3-0 run that lifted Minnesota to a 27-24 lead prompting USC Head Coach Mick Haley to call a timeout. Bratford hammered consecutive kills to give the Gophers game point at 29-25, which was immediately followed by a Bowman ace for 30-25 final game one score. Bratford was credited with six kills in game one as the Gophers hit .295 as a team with 18 digs. Candelas and Adams both contributed four kills for the Trojans.

Minnesota erupted out of the gate in game two with a 5-0 run with three team blocks involving Jones. After USC stopped the run on an Adams kill and Minnesota ball handling error, the Gophers scored consecutive points on Trojan errors for a 7-2 lead. USC sliced the gap to 11-8, only to see Minnesota return its advantage to 13-8 on two Trojan attack errors. USC managed the lead down to three at 17-14 on a 4-1 run that included kills from three different players. The Trojans closed to within two at 19-17 and 20-18, only to see the Gophers bump the margin back to four capped by a Martin kill. Venski charted two kills in a row to get USC back to within two at 23-21. The Trojans narrowed the deficit to a single point at 24-23 as Sarah Florian tallied a kill followed by a Gopher hitting error. Florian tied the game with a block solo at 24-all. Venski gave the Women of Troy their first lead of game two at 28-27 with a cross-court kill. Adams hammered a kill down the middle to give USC its first game point, but it was followed by a Martin kill to tie the game. Venski tallied a kill to shift USC back into a game-point situation, and Burdine ended game two with a kill at 31-29. Venski and Candelas tallied five kills in the second game for USC as the Trojans overcame a .179 team attack percentage in the stanza. Martin charted five kills and three blocks in the second game for the Gophers, who hit .204 with six team blocks.

The Gophers bolted to a 7-2 lead to begin game three that included a kill and block solo from Martin, and an ace from Taatjes. Florian allowed the Trojans to creep closer with consecutive kills for a 7-4 score. USC continued to whittle the gap as Candelas and Robinson tallied kills followed by a Kimi Freeburg ace at 8-7 in favor of the Gophers. The Trojans tied the game at 10 as Burdine smacked a kill followed by a Minnesota attack error. Robinson provided the Women of Troy their first lead of game three with a kill at 11-10. Minnesota called a timeout after falling behind 15-12 on two Burdine kills around a Venski kill. Minnesota came back with two points of its own to make the score 15-14. After leading by one at 16-15, the Women of Troy rattled off three straight points on kills by Venski, Candelas and Florian for a 19-15 advantage. Minnesota sliced the margin to two points at 21-19 following a Trojan attack error and Bratford kill. Minnesota put together a 3-0 run to tie the third game at 24-all capped by a Bowman kill. Nelson took an overpass spiked home a kill for a Minnesota 25-24 advantage. The Gophers ended the third game at 30-26 on a 4-0 run including a kill by Bratford and two block assists from Jones. Minnesota hit .161 in game three to USCs .100. Nelson tallied five kills for Gophers, while Burdine notched five kills on the USC ledger.

Like game three, Minnesota had a fast start to game four by taking a 6-1 advantage that included two kills by Martin. The Gophers upped the advantage to 8-2 with a kill and block from Nelson. Florian helped USC close the gap to 8-5 with two kills. Minnesota stopped the Trojan run and increased their lead to 12-7 with two kills from Jones leading to a USC timeout. The Gophers continued the pressure with two more points that included a kill from Bratford for a 14-7 margin. Nelson spiked a kill followed by a block assist with Martin to lift the Gophers to an 18-10 lead. Following a timeout, Martin slammed an overpass for a kill and 19-10 advantage. USC put together a quick run that narrowed the deficit to six at 21-15, but Minnesota built the margin back up to 23-15 on an attack error and block by Taatjes. The Gophers never looked back the rest of the way in winning game four 30-

NOTES
Southern California was looking to become the first school to win three consecutive national titles. The Women of Troy won championships in 2002 and 2003, including an undefeated season last year.

Southern California has five players on the roster that has ended their collegiate seasons with at least two national championship. Bibiana Candelas, Keao Burdine, Emily Adams, Alicia Robinson, Staci Venski have been a part of both the 2002 and 2003 NCAA titles. Burdine has won the last two NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player awards.

Tonights Southern California versus Minnesota semifinal was a rematch of last years national semifinal match and this years NACWAA Volleyball Classic Championship in which the Women of Troy stormed back from a fourth-game deficit to force a game five. USC won the final game 15-12. In the 2003 national semifinals, USC won in three games to advance to the finals.

Southern California has spent 80 consecutive weeks in the top 10 of the USA Today/CSTV Top 25 Coaches Poll. The Women of Troy held the top spot in both the preseason and first regular poll in 2004.

Southern Californias schedule in 2004 has featured stiff competition from the opening gun. Seventeen of 28 USC matches have been against teams ranked among the top 25, the most among other current top 25 schools.

The Women of Troy had its 16-match NCAA postseason win streak snapped. USC is now 23-3 over the last five postseasons. USC has advanced to the semifinals four times in the last five years, including two national titles.

Minnesota held the top spot for three weeks this season and became the 14th school to hold the number-one position. In addition, Washington earned its first-ever number-one ranking this season to become the 15th school to be voted first.

Minnesota, which had never reached the national semifinal round until last year, has returned to the semifinals for the second straight year and will appear in its first national title match against Stanford on Dec. 18.

For the second consecutive year, Minnesota has advanced to the semifinals after winning back-to-back five-game matches in the region semifinals and finals. The Gophers defeated Georgia Tech and Ohio State in five games this years region semifinal and final, as compared to Pepperdine and Washington in 2003.

Minnesota Head Coach Mike Hebert has led two different teams to the NCAA Division I Womens Volleyball Championship semifinal round. In addition to leading both the 2003 and 2004 Gophers into the semifinal round, he Illinois to the same round in 1987 and 1988. Only three other coaches have achieved the feat two different schools.

Minnesota junior libero Paula Gentil set the NCAA single-season dig record last week at the regional semifinal and final. She now has 909 on the season and is the first Division I player to reach 900 digs in single year. She is the first libero to earn AVCA All-America First-Team with her inclusion on the 2004 squad.

The Gophers played in the longest game in NCAA history on Dec. 10. Minnesota and Georgia Tech played to a 48-46 score in the fourth game of their region semifinal match. Although the Yellow Jackets won the game, the Gophers recovered to win game five 15-9.

Southern California senior middle blocker was recently named to both the AVCA All-America First-Team selection and ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America First-Team.

Both Southern California and Minnesota run a 6-2 offense with the setter placed in the back row. However, the Gophers version does not have the setter being subbed out as both setters Kelly Bowman and Lindsey Taatjes remain on the court at all times.

-- Courtesy Long Beach State