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Minnesota Golden Gophers leave with heads high after volleyball loss to Texas Longhorns in NCAA semifinal

TAMPA — Minnesota senior Christine Tan, the former Palm Harbor University standout, was disappointed in the result Thursday night but not in the team's improbable run to the national semifinals.

"I didn't think we would be here at the beginning of the season," she said. "We had a lot of tough times, and this team pulled together in an amazing way at the end of the season, this last month."

Entering November, the Golden Gophers were just 17-7. They then won 11 of their next 12 to reach the Final Four for the first time since 2004. Their bid to get to the title game ended with a straight-set loss to Texas.

"I'm awfully proud of this team," coach Mike Hebert said, who had doubts in preseason and at other times in between, including when Brook Dieter left the team in mid October. "I didn't think this was a team that could make its way through the various challenges to arrive at this point. But they proved me wrong. I was skeptical, but in the last three or four weeks, they managed to pull off something that I didn't think was going to be possible."

He thought 2010 would their year to make another run.

It just might be a second straight.

"This team will be so talented next year," said Tan, the star libero/defensive specialist.

Three is enough: Texas has won 23 of its 29 matches this season by 3-0 scores. That includes four of its five NCAA tournament matches. Only Nebraska, in last weekend's region finale, won a set.

History made: Minnesota senior Taylor Carico became the first Division I women's volleyball setter to play for two different teams in the national semifinals. She led Southern California to this stage in 2007, then transferred to Minnesota for her final year, proving to be a difference-maker.

Fan support: Each Hawaii player had at least one family member make the trek across the continent, but the team knew the distance (about 4,700 miles from Honolulu) and the cost for an airline ticket on less than a week's notice made it difficult for homeland support.

"Most people will be watching TV," said Shoji, who had family coming in from North Dakota. "There will be people here, but it won't be anything like it was last week (in Palo Alto, Calif.). But we know people are watching. All the e-mails and text messages from home, there's a lot of support from home. We feel the support from across the ocean and across the country. We're playing for a lot of people back home."

. Fast Facts

NCAA volleyball championships

Championship game: Penn State (37-0) vs. Texas (29-1)

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa

TV: ESPN2

Tickets: Still available for $30 each; (813) 301-2500, Times Forum box office, ticketmaster.com

Fan Fest: 5-7:30 p.m. Saturday, Times Forum Plaza

Prep All-America game:

1 p.m. Sunday, Times Forum; admission $7.25

Minnesota Golden Gophers leave with heads high after volleyball loss to Texas Longhorns in NCAA semifinal 12/17/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 17, 2009 11:00pm]
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