MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.-- For the second straight season, host Minnesota had to survive an upset-minded North Dakota team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This season, the seventh-seeded Gophers advanced with a 25-20, 25-15, 25-20 win Friday evening at the Joel Maturi Sports Pavilion in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
North Dakota (30-8) was led by Jordan Vail with nine kills while Ashley Brueggeman added eight. Faith Dooley added four kills and seven blocks while Tamara Merseli chipped in four kills and led the defense with 10 digs.
“I’m really proud of the growth that we’ve experienced, especially this year,” UND head coach Mark Pryor said. “We were back again to play Minnesota. I think that the vibe was different this time around, as far as, not just happy to be here, but let’s compete. And, if you look at it, for us to out-block; to double Minnesota in blocks, and we have the same number of hitting errors, we’re trending in the right direction to be able to play against these teams. They were able to, in the first and third sets it was very close, and we’re really moving in a great direction, we’ve just got to be able to do a little more once we kind of get into that 19-20 range, they were able to hold on a little bit, and we honestly, at times, were thinking, we can actually do this, and that’s a great feeling, but sometimes that emotion got away from us a little bit in those sets.”
The first set was back-and-forth until the midway point of the frame. Minnesota sneaked ahead 15-12 at the media timeout and eventually had set point at 24-17, but UND did not go quietly. From that point, UND got a block, a service ace and forced an error before the Gophers were finally able to put it away, 25-20, to take the lead in the match.
The second set saw Minnesota lead from the get-go, turning a slim 7-6 edge into an 18-10 advantage as the Gophers close the frame with a 25-15 win.
In the third, though, it was North Dakota that charged out of the locker room with eight of the first 12 points. A Jordan Vail kill followed by back-to-back blocks by Faith Dooley and Julia Kaczorowska helped UND gain steam and forced Minnesota to burn an early stoppage at 8-4. Out of the timeout, Minnesota rallied with a quick 6-2 spurt to knot the score at 10-all. Later, a Brittany McLean kill gave the Gophers a 15-14 lead that they would not relinquish to take the set, 25-21, and the match.
Minnesota (27-5) will play Northern Iowa-- who swept Louisville in the day's earlier match-- in the second round Saturday.
Notes: Five UND seniors played in their final matches of their careers (Faitih Dooley, Sydney Griffin, Julia Kaczorowska, Tamara Merseli and Teodora Tepavac) ... That group helped UND to its best four-year record in school history (103-40), three Big Sky North Division titles, two league tournament crowns and the school's first two NCAA Division I Tournament berths ... Minnesota-- ranked No. 8 in the AVCA poll and the overall seven seed in the tournament-- is aiming for its third straight Final Four appearance ... UND's 30 wins were the most in program history, breaking that mark by four wins.