Volleyball’s coach voted best in Big Ten

When Minnesota’s volleyball team lost the final two matches of the 1998 season and missed the NCAA tournament, the team vowed not let that happen again in 1999.
So the Gophers turned up the heat and went 15-5 in the Big Ten this season — their best conference record ever.
But the success on the court came from preparation off of it. And coach Mike Hebert was instrumental in turning a 7-13 conference record of a year ago into a trip to Los Angeles this weekend for the NCAA tournament. Minnesota is the fifth seed in the 16-team Central region.
Monday, Hebert was honored for his role in leading the Gophers to second place in the conference — he won both awards for 1999 Big Ten coach of the year. One was voted on by Big Ten coaches, the other by the media.
He said he was somewhat surprised at the awards, but nevertheless flattered — more so by the one given by the coaches.
“When the coaches you battle with week in and week out over many years vote you this honor, there is a special meaning there,” Hebert said.
This is the third time Hebert has been honored with the coach of the year awards. He won them twice while coach of Illinois, but said this one is a little more gratifying.
“To be recognized for the efforts of rebuilding the Minnesota program is very special,” he said.
All-Conference Dream Team
Three Gophers were named to the All-Big Ten team on Monday — outside hitter Nicole Branagh, setter Lindsey Berg and middle blocker Stephanie Hagen.
Branagh led the conference in kills with 5.35 per game. She is the only Big Ten player to average over five kills a game. The award is Branagh’s second. She was an honorable mention two years ago.
The hard jump serve and strong setting of Lindsey Berg helped her land her first all-conference honor. Berg led the conference in service aces at .62 per game and was also third in assists at 13.01.
Hagen earned her first honor as well. She was second in the conference in hitting percentage at .361, finishing behind Big Ten player of the year, Lauren Cacciamani of Penn State.
Hebert was especially happy for Hagen, who was not heavily recruited out of high school but has blossomed into a Big Ten all-star.
“Hagen brings a glow to the coaching staff,” Hebert said. “Our first impression of her was that she was a high school player who we didn’t think would ever be that good, but here she is an all-conference member. That is a real story.”

Big Ten is best
The Big Ten landed eight of its 11 teams in the tournament with only Purdue, Iowa and Northwestern missing out on postseason play.
Top-ranked Penn State was given the No. 1 seed in the Central region and will host the first and second rounds this weekend.
If Minnesota escapes from Los Angeles with two wins, it will most likely head to State College to face the Lions at Rec Hall.
The remaining six Big Ten teams will all head out on the road this weekend.
Along with Penn State, the other top seeds are Stanford in the Pacific region, Hawaii in the Mountain, and Pacific in the East.

John R. Carter covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]