Interviews, notes and fun times with the four NCAA semifinalists

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Wednesday is a day for all four semifinalists to not only get in 90-minute practices (in the photo above you can see that Minnesota coach Hugh McCutcheon was in a good mood as the Gophers took the floor at 10 a.m.), but also for the media to spend time with the coaches and players. So was Texas coach Jerritt Elliott: Jerritt Elliott at practice 12-16-15             We’ll have a little of this and a little of that as the day progresses, including video interviews and notes about all four teams. And we’ll start with this fun video interview with Nebraska junior Amber Rolfzen and her twin sister Kadie: One of the great stories of this foursome is the emergence of Kansas sophomore right side Kelsie Payne, who was fantastic in the Jayhawks’ win over USC. She’s from Austin, so naturally there was plenty of conversation about her and Texas. We also caught up with Kansas libero Cassie Wait, who not only has been fantastic, but recognizes that all four of the teams here have super defensive players. It’s obvious that Wait has a great sense of humor and really, really appreciates what the Jayhawks have done so far:

KU’s Maggie Anderson back home in Nebraska

Kansas coach Ray Bechard promised Lincoln, Neb., native Maggie Anderson the Jayhawks would play Nebraska during her career with the Jayhawks.  But he didn’t envision a national semifinal match-up in her junior season. Anderson, a freshman at Southwest HS in Lincoln when the Huskers last made the national semis (2008), followed the Huskers throughout high school.  She figured to stay in-state, too, for college when the setter committed to Nebraska-Kearney on the NCAA Division II level. But Anderson already had a taste of the University of Kansas from attending a camp between her junior and senior years in high school.  “I fell in love with literally everything that you could in love with in the sport of volleyball—the staff and the school,” said Anderson. However, with no openings on the Jayhawks roster, Anderson thought she was bound for Kearney.  That is, until an opening cropped up at KU.  Anderson even has the date down from her senior year in high school. “It was April 18 when Coach B (Bechard) called me and said, ‘You’re on the roster,’” said Anderson. “The culture she brings to the gym from the communication standpoint is unmatched,” said Bechard.  “We wouldn’t be the team we are without her.”

It’s all happening in the Twin Cities

While the Gophers were in the midst of their run to the NCAA Championship, two regionals were going on at the same time in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Minnesota took care of Jackson State and Marquette in the first and second rounds before more than 5,000 fans on each day. Across the Mississippi River in St. Paul, seven-time NCAA Division II champion (2007-’13) Concordia was hosting a regional final.  The Golden Bears fell short of reaching the round of eight in Tampa after a loss, 3-0, to Wayne St. (Neb.). “We’re very fortunate to be in a state where volleyball matters,” said McCutcheon.  “It’s high school, club level and obviously into the collegiate space as well.  There’s a lot of good programs and a lot of people care about it.” The Gophers are in the national semis for the first time since 2009.

No exams for Texas, but …

If a clear mind amounts to anything in the semifinals, Texas shapes up the best with all of the Longhorns’ final exams out of the way by the time they arrived in Omaha. “We’re all clear, baby!” exclaimed Longhorns coach Jerritt Elliott, who said it’s planned that way each year.  Maybe that’s one reason the Horns have made the national semis five years in a row. The last ‘Horn to take a final was junior setter Nicole Dalton on Tuesday morning. The three other teams still have players involved in finals.  Minnesota’s Paige Tapp, for instance got up at 6 a.m. and took a final in a marketing course.  After the open practice at CenturyLink Center and the afternoon news conference, she planned to take another final in IDSC, a computer tech course, at the Gopher team hotel.

Good Will Hunter

Former Boston Red Sox infielder Buddy Hunter, who made his last major league appearance with the 1975 A.L. pennant winners, said he has two tickets to Thursday’s semifinals.  He’ll be in attendance to watch his niece, Huskers sophomore setter Kelly Hunter, on the floor. “We’re really proud of her,” said Uncle Buddy. The one who should feel more proud is Huskers coach John Cook for not letting this Hunter get away.  Buddy Hunter’s other niece, Lindsay Hunter, played at Missouri (2002-05) before landing a spot on the U.S. national team.

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