Gophers playing without senior star Gibbemeyer

Lindsay Guentzel

Losing senior Hailey Cowles during preseason camp wasnâÄôt how the Gophers envisioned their year starting. Luckily, they adjusted quickly to losing the talented outside hitter, winning the Golden Gopher Invitational, Diet Coke Classic and Duke Invitational in her absence. But with less than two weeks before the much-tougher Big Ten season, the 12th-ranked Gophers have another obstacle to overcome âÄî losing senior Lauren Gibbemeyer to a wrist injury she sustained Sept. 8. And it isnâÄôt just the loss of the middle blockerâÄôs talent that worries head coach Mike Hebert âÄî itâÄôs her on-the-court leadership the Gophers will miss the most. âÄúSheâÄôs the person who inspires everyone to be competitive,âÄù he said. âÄúWhen you take that piece out, itâÄôs pretty tough to find out whoâÄôs going to take her place.âÄù Gibbemeyer injured her wrist during practice the day before the team left for the Duke Invitational and was held out of the tournament as a precaution, Hebert said. The Gophers will be without Gibbemeyer again this weekend when they travel to San Diego for the USD/San Diego State Tournament. âÄú[Her wrist] hasnâÄôt come around enough for her to be playing,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúThe other players need to figure out how to play without her in the line-up.âÄù Losing just one set in a sweep of three unranked teams, the Duke Invitational was the first chance at figuring out life on the court without Gibbemeyer. âÄú[The team] really picked it up, and I think we meshed more towards the end of the tournament,âÄù freshman Ashley Wittman said. âÄúMaybe the teams werenâÄôt as good, but I think it definitely helps us get to know each other better on the court, which will be to our advantage when we play the harder teams this weekend.âÄù Named to the All-Tournament team, Wittman received both Big Ten Player of the Week and Big Ten Freshman of the Week for her performance in the Duke Invitational. ItâÄôs contributions like WittmanâÄôs âÄî and the rest of her recruiting class âÄî that have helped fill the voids left by Cowles and Gibbemeyer this season. âÄúWithout [this yearâÄôs recruiting class] weâÄôd be in a world of hurt,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúThey have really hit the ground running.âÄù Current success aside, Hebert hopes the lack of leadership on the court isnâÄôt an issue this weekend when the Gophers take on UC-Santa Barbara, San Diego State and No. 23 San Diego. âÄúIt was pretty clear last weekend that we need someone to step up and do a little bit of what Lauren does for us, match in and match out,âÄù Hebert said. Junior Jessica Granquist is doing her part to make sure GibbemeyerâÄôs vacancy isnâÄôt a problem for the team. âÄúIâÄôm taking on the role of making sure everybodyâÄôs OK on the court and that everyoneâÄôs emotions are at the right level for us to compete and win in each game,âÄù she said. âÄúEach match is different so I try to stabilize their emotions on the court.âÄù Granquist acknowledged the deficit left by GibbemeyerâÄôs injury but has confidence in the team after playing well without their captain in North Carolina. âÄúIâÄôm excited to go to California,âÄù she said. âÄúThey are teams that I like to play. TheyâÄôll push us.âÄù A California native himself, this weekendâÄôs match-up against UC-Santa Barbara will be somewhat of a homecoming for Hebert, an alumnus who played volleyball for the Gauchos. âÄúIâÄôve been out here so long that I donâÄôt feel much of an affinity between me and UC-SB anymore,âÄù he said. âÄúBy the same token, theyâÄôre a California school that has a great reputation, and I want our team to play really well against them.âÄù