Palmer leads youthful group of setters

Alexandra Palmer came to the Gophers as a transfer but has emerged as a veteran leader on the team.

Minnesota setter Alexandra Palmer plays against Ohio State on Friday, Sept. 28, 2012, at the Sports Pavillion.

Blake Leigh, Daily File Photo

Minnesota setter Alexandra Palmer plays against Ohio State on Friday, Sept. 28, 2012, at the Sports Pavillion.

Megan Ryan

Last season, Alexandra Palmer transferred from sunny Santa Clara, Calif., prepared to fight for the starting setter spot on the Gophers’ volleyball team with a brand new Olympic coach.

A year later, Palmer is one of just three seniors on the squad and the starting setter on a team pegged as a NCAA Final Four contender this season.

But while the jump may seem large, Palmer’s been a leader from the start — with the setter position running the play on the court.

“Inherently, I’m a quarterback on the team,” she said.

Palmer was the starting setter for the majority of last season.

“I know at the beginning of the year there was a little bit of competition,” said Gophers’ head coach Hugh McCutcheon. “But it was pretty clear early on how things were going to play out.”

In her fifth year playing collegiate volleyball, Palmer has made it a goal to help her teammates.

McCutcheon said Palmer has embraced the responsibility that comes with being one of the oldest members of the team. Palmer, he said, honed her leadership skills early last nonconference season.

“Vocally, I think she definitely demands a lot out of each player,” said sophomore setter Karyn Israel.  “And she holds people accountable.”

Israel and Palmer played for the same club team in Laguna Beach, Calif., so the younger setter has had a role model in Palmer for several years.

“Even back then, she was setting an example for me,” Israel said.

Now, with the Gophers, Palmer has extended her influence off the court.

“[I’m] open and available for them at all times, whether it’s volleyball, life, school stuff,” Palmer said. “They know they can always come to me with anything.”

Three of the four setters this season are underclassmen. Palmer said she notices the way her freshmen and sophomore teammates look up to her.

McCutcheon has also noticed the cooperation — an important factor in the setter group.

“I definitely make it a goal to help them with what offense we run, how to lead on the court,” Palmer said. “Because it’s not about me. It’s about Gopher volleyball and the tradition and legacy that I leave behind.”