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UND volleyball team prepares for NCAA Tournament match against Minnesota

UND volleyball players celebrate after winning the 2016 Big Sky title at The Betty. UND is again heading back to the NCAA Tournament, playing at Minnesota on Friday. Photo/Eric Hylden, Grand Forks Herald

Minutes after UND beat Sacramento State for the Big Sky Conference, Fighting Hawks volleyball coach Mark Pryor knew where his team was headed for the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

To no one's surprise, UND will play at Minnesota on Friday night in the first round of the tournament. The NCAA released the pairings Sunday night.

In fact, minutes after UND won the Big Sky, Pryor said he received a text from Minnesota coach Hugh McCutcheon saying, "See you in two weeks."

UND (30-7) will take on Minnesota (26-5) in one of two first-round games set for the Maturi Pavilion on the Minnesota campus. Northern Iowa (26-8) will meet Louisville (24-6) in the other first-round matchup.

UND qualified for its second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament with its Big Sky title, coming in a dramatic 3-2 win over host Sacramento State on Nov. 18. The Hawks played at Minnesota in last year's tournament as well, falling 3-0.

With the NCAA emphasis on regionalization as much as possible for first-round tournament games, the committee's decision to pair UND and Minnesota came as no surprise.

UND is 0-4 all time against the Gophers, including a 3-1 loss in the 2016 regular season before the 3-0 loss in the first round of last year's tournament.

UND won't alter is week of preparation much, considering its familiarity with the Gophers. The team won't need to leave early to become acclimated to the surroundings.

"This will be our third time we've played there in 14 months," said Pryor.

Despite its second straight Big Sky title, UND still has one goal remaining.

"We've accomplished every goal we've had this year, except one," said Pryor. "The last goal we want is to send someone home in December. For this group of kids, that's a pretty aggressive goal and an aggressive mindset I haven't seen from them.

"When they talked about that last January, I thought, 'OK, this is good.' "

Minnesota is the No. 7 overall seed in the 64-team tournament and one of eight Big Ten teams in the field

Penn State is the overall No. 1 seed.

The Gophers, who reached the 2016 Final Four, beat UND 25-21, 25-12, 25-20 in last year's first-round tournament game.

UND at Minnesota

• When: 7 p.m., Friday.

• Where: Maturi Pavilion, Minneapolis.

• Records: UND 30-7; Minnesota 26-5

• Of note: UND is making its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance; the Gophers are the No. 7 seed in the 64-team field.

Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
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