Change in personnel prompts possible change in formation as practice begins

The Gophers began practice not sure whether they’ll stick to using two setters.

by David McCoy

Minnesota’s volleyball team has been to the Final Four the last two years running.

But if the Gophers want to make it a third, coach Mike Hebert said the formation the Gophers used to get there might need some adjusting.

Minnesota employed a 6-2 formation last year, meaning two of the six players on the court were setters, both of whom could also hit. But Hebert said he is considering shifting the formation to a 5-1, with five hitters and one setter, for this season.

“We’re not sure yet,” Hebert said. “We’re going to try both in practice – the one-setter system and the two-setter system. Within two weeks, we should know which way we’re going to go, at least to start the season.”

Hebert said Minnesota already has one solid “setter-slash-hitter” in Kelly Bowman, so the biggest factor in making his decision will be the performance of freshman Rachel Hartmann, a setter who also has the ability to hit well.

“We’ve seen her play a lot, but we don’t know a lot about her ability at this level,” Hebert said. “So we have to evaluate her ability to attack the ball as well as set the ball, and if she can do both at a high level, that brings into play the 6-2 system we played last year.”

Hartmann said she doesn’t feel like there’s too much pressure on her as a result of the situation. In fact, she relishes the fact that her play is already having an impact on the rest of the team. The Gophers began practice Friday.

“It’s kind of exciting to know you’re a part of the team and they need you,” Hartmann said. “There’s pressure, but in a good way.”

Hartmann has one thing working in her favor. Her club team went through the opposite adjustment last year, leaving the 5-1 for the 6-2. Hartmann said that experience has allowed her to feel much more comfortable in practice with the Gophers than she would have felt otherwise.

Hebert said he feels comfortable falling back on the 5-1 system if Hartmann isn’t quite ready to take on the role vacated by last year’s starter Lindsey Taatjes.

He said he doesn’t really prefer one formation instead of the other. Rather, what it boils down to is which system fits best with the type of talent on the team.

But senior libero Paula Gentil does prefer the 6-2 formation, and said she tentatively expects things to stay that way.

“It’s better to always have three hitters,” Gentil said. “And having two setters is good because if one setter digs the ball, we have the front setter that can always set, rather than having someone else.”

The vast majority of other teams use the 5-1 formation, which gives Minnesota somewhat of an advantage in strategy by using the 6-2.

And after all, it worked last year.

“It’s good to be different, obviously,” Gentil said. “Because then other teams have to adjust more. I’m a fan of the 6-2.”

Transfer Cumpston hurt

Junior transfer Meghan Cumpston split her knee open on one of the Sports Pavilion benches during Friday’s practice, Hebert said.

Hebert said the knee had a “big gash,” putting Cumpston, who transferred from Arizona, out of commission until Friday or as late as Monday.

The injury delays Minnesota’s ability to settle on new starters on the left side, which Hebert said is a “big hole” to fill.

Hebert said Cumpston, an outside hitter, is a primary candidate to fill one of the vacant left side positions.