Bowman, Gentil, Martin named first-team All-Big Ten; Gentil top defender

Paula Gentil’s defensive player of the year award was her third in three years.

Kent Erdahl

After taking a look at the seeds for the 64-team NCAA Tournament on Sunday, Minnesota volleyball coach Mike Hebert made a quick declaration.

“The Big Ten has eclipsed the Pac-10, in my estimation, as the toughest conference from top to bottom in the entire country,” he said.

Hebert later said that he felt the Big Ten has loomed largest for years. But, after the NCAA selection committee seeded three Big Ten teams – No. 2 Penn State, No. 4 Minnesota and No. 5 Ohio State – higher than any Pac-10 squad, Hebert said the numbers finally back him up.

And if the Big Ten is, in fact, the best conference, Minnesota players Paula Gentil, Erin Martin and Kelly Bowman can now be considered the best of the best.

These three Gophers were named first team All-Big Ten on Tuesday.

Gentil, Minnesota’s junior libero, was also named the Big Ten defensive player of the year, marking the third time in her three seasons that she has collected both honors.

“It’s not a surprise that Paula was named again,” Hebert said. “I would have been shocked and surprised if she wasn’t.”

Gentil said she was still surprised to receive the awards. But her statistics show why it wasn’t that much of a surprise to anyone else.

In the four years the defensive award has existed, Gentil has earned it three times. She ranks first in the conference in career digs and just broke her own record for digs in a season.

And she still has another season.

“I hope I make it a fourth and keep helping the team,” Gentil said. “I wouldn’t make it without them. The only reason I got the individual awards is because of the teams and what they’ve done.”

One of the teammates Gentil will be thanking is senior outside hitter Martin.

Despite being fifth on Minnesota’s all-time kills list, this is the first season Martin made the top conference list.

When the Gophers need offense, Martin often delivers. She ranks second in the conference in kills per game and was named the tournament’s most valuable player in three of the team’s four preseason tournaments.

Martin and Gentil’s accomplishments were apparent during the season, because they usually led the offense and defense, respectively. But sophomore setter Bowman quietly had one of the most statistically impressive seasons on the team.

Even Hebert said he was slightly surprised to hear that the other Big Ten coaches had voted her in, at least until looking at the statistics.

Bowman led the conference in triple-doubles, with seven, and finished tied for first in hitting percentage (.361), although she’s a setter.

When she heard the news, even Bowman said she was surprised.

She said she didn’t even hear her name until someone congratulated her, and she said she simply didn’t expect it because of the quality of the conference and her team.

“With a team that has so many great players, we can really go to anyone,” Bowman said. “To know that I got recognized is just a nice honor.”