By Mike Max

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It is becoming an annual occurrence: the Gopher volleyball team’s journey into the NCAA Tournament.

This week it moves to the Sweet 16 and a date with USC in Florida.

The Gophers are battle-tested going into the Sweet 16 because they battle in the best conference in the country — the Big 10.

“The Big 10 is great. It exposes some of those weaknesses that all teams have, and you’re forced to have to compensate and adjust on a nightly basis,” said Coach Hugh McCutcheon.

gophers volleyball team Gopher Volleyball Awaits USC In NCAA Sweet 16

(credit: CBS)

That said, they were not supposed to be this good this soon, not with the youth on the team.

The upperclassmen are now counseling freshman on how to play under the bright lights.

“We just keep telling them it’s the same anywhere we go, and we focus on ourselves and what we do, and hopefully that will get us where we want to go in the end,” said player Molly Lohman.

So is this a group of overachievers who look at themselves as underdogs going in? Or is this a program where the standard is so high now that you expect to win all the time because you are the Minnesota Gophers?

When McCutcheon at the helm, you better believe you will win, because that is one of his foundation pieces to maintaining the program.

“You don’t really want to frame anything as we’re underdogs or they’re better than we are or whatever,” McCutcheon said. “We just really focus on, ‘Hey, what do we need to do to win the next point?’ and play it as such.”

The Gophers face USC Friday in Gainesville, Florida.

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