Give credit where credit is due

Coach Mike Hebert has made Gophers Volleyball both successful and popular.

by Paul Cordes

In 1990, the Minnesota volleyball team finished the season ninth in the Big Ten with an 8-26 record, the worst in the history of the program.

Six years later, the Gophers hired coach Mike Hebert to take charge of the volleyball team who had three losing seasons in the past six years.

Since then, you could say things have gone slightly uphill.

Minnesota, currently ranked 11th in the latest CSTV/AVCA poll, has gone 142-38 in the past five years and currently boast an 11-3 record with all three losses coming against ranked teams.

Hebert, who came from Illinois, has led the Gophers to three NCAA regional finals in four years and has been a key to Minnesota’s success during his tenure as head coach.

When Hebert came from Illinois with his wife, it was made pretty clear to him that the then-women’s athletic director Chris Voelz expected a successful program.

“I think I figured I had accomplished all I could accomplish at Illinois. Minnesota had recruited me for about a year and half, and my wife and I decided to come up,” Hebert said.

“I got here when it was made very clear that Chris Voelz wanted a winner,” Hebert said. “They wanted a team that was going to be in the Top 25 every year. It was pretty clear.”

And what Voelz wanted, she did receive.

Hebert has gone 294-101 in his 12th season at Minnesota and his winning teams as the all-time leader in Big Ten coaching victories, it’s easy to imagine what he’s done for the sport at the University.

His winning ways have not only put Minnesota volleyball on the map, but have also put butts in seats, something Hebert said was an original part of the plan when he first arrived.

In 1996, the Gophers averaged 1,884 fans per game, but 11 years later, Minnesota averaged more than double that number, bringing in 3,938 fans per game, fourth-best in the country.

“That was all part of the initial plan to make sure that our attendance was a real target in building the program. I think the Twin Cities community is a very proactive volleyball community, which was one reason I took the job up here. A strong spectator base is an essential part in building a strong program,” Hebert said.

That strong program is one that Hebert seems to have nearly perfected. All that has eluded Hebert in his years of coaching is that illustrious national championship.

Last season, the Gophers had No. 1 Nebraska on the ropes two games to none but fell in three straight games to end its tournament run in the regional finals. The Huskers would go on to win the title, but Hebert is once again back on the hunt this season.

“I’m more of an environment-creator than an authoritarian, talk-down coach. I like to empower my assistant coaches to make decisions. I’m not what some would refer to as a power coach who wants to make every decision and control every molecule of the program. I like more of a democratic environment.”

That democratic environment must be looking pretty good to the nation’s top volleyball players as Hebert continues to fill out impressive rosters every season.

Freshmen Lauren Gibbemeyer, Brook Dieter and Haily Cowles have contributed immediately to Minnesota’s success this season, and there doesn’t look to be an end in sight to the talent the Gophers are bringing in.

“With players we’ve signed and verbal commitments over the next couple of years there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll remain one of the elite programs in the country.” Hebert said. “The influx of talent does not appear to be winding down and we’re looking really good over the next few years.”

And with the recruits continuing to flow in Hebert just might get his title sooner than later.

-Paul Cordes welcomes comments at [email protected].