Six leave team before eligibility expires

The loss of the six plus two seniors leaves the Gophers’ roster slim.

The future looked bright for the Minnesota volleyball team last fall, as the team boasted lots of depth and carried just two seniors.

But as six players followed the two seniors in exiting the program this offseason, uncertainty can’t help but re-enter the minds of those who may already be looking toward next fall.

Junior defensive specialists Michelle Wilber, Kelly Fallon and Krista Chin left a season before their eligibility ran out, along with junior outside hitter Rachelle Hagerty, freshman setter Caitlin Schneider and freshman middle blocker Chardé Phillips.

There were a variety of reasons why the players left, coach Mike Hebert said, ranging from academic pressures to injuries to a possible interest in transferring to another school.

“There really isn’t one reason why all of these players left,” Hebert said. “I’ve met with all the players and we’ve all agreed with the reasons for leaving. Now we’re back on the recruiting trail.”

Chin elaborated, saying she left for academic reasons. She said between her 20-credit semester and her two jobs, there just wasn’t enough time available to continue.

“I still have a passion for the game,” she said. “But it came down to the fact that as a pre-med major, I need to focus on that part of my life right now.”

The unexpected departures cuts Minnesota’s spring roster to eight players, which, compared to the original 16, doesn’t seem like many. But Hebert said nothing would be negatively affected by these losses.

“A lot of teams get down in numbers this time of year,” he said. “I’ve had a few seasons where we haven’t been able to compete at all because of low numbers, but we can play with eight.”

While the Gophers now lack depth in the defensive positions, especially in practice, the biggest loss the team might be facing is Hagerty.

Hagerty played regularly last season, splitting time on the right and left side as a solid hitter. With the unexpected loss, Hebert said now the team would have to go back to recruiting this spring. But he said there still is an upside.

“We’re one of the only major schools that still have a scholarship remaining,” he said. “So now, when a transfer opportunity or a diamond in the rough opportunity presents itself, we’ll be one of the few schools that can offer a scholarship.

“There’s still time to locate one or two good players who might be interested in coming here.”

According to NCAA rules, Minnesota has until Aug. 1 to find a player.

But even should the Gophers find replacements, the team will still be back to square one when it comes to one important factor in volleyball: team cohesion.

That was one of the troubles last season, as it took time for Minnesota’s six players to get used to each other on the court.

And with that problem assumed to be fixed with such a large part of the team expected to return, this could mean a setback to the Gophers’ goals for next season.

But junior setter Rachel Hartmann said while the players will be missed, the team doesn’t plan to repeat that problem.

“New people on the court should never be an excuse. It’s a goal of ours to make it easier to transition from year to year while adding new players,” she said.

“You can look at this as a negative thing, but with such a small group left, we’ve grown so much closer over the last few weeks. This can be a positive result for us.”