Dec. 11, 2009

By Judd Spicer
Special to

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- Making their seventh Sweet 16 appearance since 1999, host and 11th-seeded Minnesota (27-8) outlasted Colorado State ( 25-6 ) at the Sports Pavilion, defeating the Rams in four sets by scores of 25-22, 29-27, 23-25 and 25-18. The Gophers will face off Saturday night with the No. 3-seeded Florida State Seminoles (31-2), winner of Friday’s first semifinal in five sets over Kentucky (29-5).  The Minneapolis Regional final is slated for 6:30 p.m. (EST).

The victory puts the Gophers into their fourth Elite Eight since 2003.  Colorado State had two match-point opportunities in the second set, but ultimately couldn’t bury the Gophers before a raucous home crowd of more than 2,800.  

Past becomes prologue-in-part for Minnesota, whose previous Sweet 16 hosting in 2004 found the Gophers winning their own regional and advancing as far as the national championship game.

“I thought the match was evenly played in the serve and pass games,” said Gopher coach Mike Hebert.  “I thought defensively we were a little bit better and were able to convert a little more often than they did.  I’m really impressed with how well coached Colorado State is.  They had a great defensive plan of attack, particularly against Gibbemeyer.  But we managed to find enough cracks in the block to get through.”

In regard to his team’s defense, which had 86 digs, Hebert added:

“I think we’re a very good defensive team, particularly in light of the relationship between the block and defensive position.  We work on that a lot and we’re trying to get the opponent’s hitter to blast the ball where we want them to hit it.  In doing that, we place our defenders accordingly and we’ve managed for several years now to have a solid defensive team built around that principle.”

Minnesota was led by a career-high 22 kills from freshman Tabitha Love, along with 2008 third-team All-American Gibbemeyer, who matched 13 kills with nine digs.  The Gophers’ highly active defense sported five players with double-digit digs, led by 21 from sophomore Jessica Granquist.  Senior setter Taylor Carico distributed the ball well with 47 assists on the night.  

“Obviously, it’s great to play in front of your own fans. To get that support,” Gibbemeyer said.  “It was a great turnout tonight and we’re so thankful to have fans like these.  It was definitely an advantage and we just can’t wait to come back tomorrow night.”

In her Minnesota homecoming, Tessa Nelson put on an impressive display in the Rams’ loss.  The senior middle blocker from Balaton, Minn. -- an All-Mountain West selection – had 14 kills for the night and four block assists.  Nelson averaged 1.26 blocks per set on the year, good for 35th in all of Division I.  Mountain West Player of the Year Danielle Minch led all Rams with 17 kills, while senior libero Katelin Batten added a team-high 18 digs.  Sophomore setter Evan Sanders, who entered the post season averaging 10.74 assists per set, offered a Ram-leading 41 tonight.