Questions abound for spikers as new season approaches

by Brian Hall

Opening the season against Stanford – ranked second in the country by Volleyball Magazine – on Aug. 31, Minnesota’s volleyball team receives an early test of where it stands as a national power.

The Gophers set a school record with a 30-4 season last year, ranking anywhere from fifth to 11th nationally and advancing to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

“We got the program boosted up to the elite level last year,” coach Mike Hebert said. “We are now perceived not only among ourselves but nationally as an elite program. There is only one thing to expect and that is to be good every year.

“The match against Stanford will give us an immediate fix on just how far this group has come in preseason training.”

In each of the two major preseason polls, the Gophers are ranked 15th nationally, behind Big Ten rivals Penn State and Wisconsin and ahead of Ohio State.

“People are really voting on our reputation,” Hebert said. “What I get out of these rankings is that people now respect what is going on here.”

Despite earning national recognition, Hebert wants to concentrate on the task at hand – preparing his team for the upcoming season.

“Things are right on track as far as I am concerned,” Hebert said. “We are right on pace in terms of what we want to install on a daily basis.

“I believe we will be at least as good as last year. Maybe a little bit better.”

Replacing an

With the graduation of two-time All-American Nicole Branagh, Minnesota has a large hole at outside hitter to fill.

Branagh finished her career at Minnesota as the Big Ten’s all-time leader in kills.

Using a variety of options at his disposal, Hebert hopes to offset the loss of offense with a better balanced scoring attack.

“Starting this year we have more backups and talent assembled than I have ever had here,” Hebert said. “We will have a much more diversified attack. Which means we won’t have to rely on one player like we did with Nicole.”

Kathy Tilson, a senior transfer from the University of Texas, will help to soften the blow, as will a possible position change.

All-conference middle blocker Stephanie Hagen is expected to share time in the outside hitter rotation.

“We have so much other depth that we thing we can play some other people in the middle and put Stephanie out there on the right side,” Hebert said. “That would give us a big blocker out there and it will allow her to hit out of the right back position. We will be able to milk more out of her offense by moving her around a little bit.”

Noble named co-captain

Junior Carrie Noble has been named co-captain this season, along with returning captain Lindsay Berg.

Last season Berg was the lone captain for the Gophers.

“She had a lot of pressure on her without someone else,” Noble said. “I think it is kind of a relief for her. She really holds the team together.”

Before the season, Berg approached the coaching staff and asked to bring Noble aboard as co-captain.

“We are really close,” Berg said. “We work really well together and the team really likes and respects her. It has been great having a partner there when times get tough; you get to work with someone instead of being out there alone.”

Brian Hall welcomes comments at [email protected]