New spikers, rule changes leave Hebert optimistic

by Brian Hall

Being ranked in the top 20 for the past 25 AVCA/USA Today national polls, the Minnesota volleyball program is attempting to reload while maintaining its status as a national power.

Minnesota is coming off the most successful season in school history, posting a 30-4 record and advanced to the regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season and the fourth time in program history.

Yet, beginning the 2001 season the Gophers must replace four starters, including two-time All-American Nicole Branagh – the Big Ten’s all-time leader in kills.

This weekend the new look, 15th ranked Gophers had the opportunity to see how they match up against a perennial power.

Minnesota opened the 2001 season with a loss to 10th ranked Stanford in the Jefferson Cup Invitational, held at the University of Virginia.

“You really don’t know what you have until you play,” coach Mike Hebert said. “Then you can start to develop a feel for what you have and I think our team played inconsistently against Stanford.

“There were moments when we looked really good. But Stanford’s strength made us look young at times. I wasn’t unhappy with the effort. It was very instructive. I learned a lot about the team and I think they learned a lot about themselves.”

The Gophers took second place in the tournament by going 2-1 in the three matches.

After losing three close games to Stanford (30-27, 30-27, and 30-17), Minnesota rebounded to take three of four games from Radford (30-22, 30-22, 21-30, and 30-28), and finished by sweeping Virginia (30-15, 30-19, and 30-25.)

Seniors Lindsey Berg and Stephanie Hagen were named to the all-tournament team.

“I think we still have a lot we could do better,” freshman Erin Martin said. “I thought during our last game against Virginia, we played very well. We took them out of their game and we didn’t let them do the things they wanted to do. And that was our game plan.”

Martin, one of seven new players on the team, compiled double figures in kills for two of the three matches, leading the team in scoring against Stanford with 11.5 points.

“(Martin) was inconsistent,” Hebert said. “But her moments of brilliance are the real deal. We need to cultivate her ability, and get her experienced and mature as quickly as we can because she can really bring some offense.”

Possibly the biggest change for the Gophers this season is the new rally scoring system in collegiate volleyball.

Instead of only being able to score on the service game, teams are now awarded points for every play, offensively and defensively. The NCAA has used rally scoring for the deciding fifth game in the past, but will now use it throughout the match.

Games one through four will be decided when a team reaches 30 points, with the fifth game staying at 15 points.

“I really like the 30-point rally games,” Hebert said. “I don’t think the matches would have turned out any differently. The games felt the same to me. I didn’t feel like we had to change tactically.”

Although the game feels the same, Hebert has a new cast of players to follow out his tactical plan. Hagen, a key member of last year’s veteran squad, sees much room for improvement.

“Last year at this point it seems we were pretty close to being as good as we could be,” Hagen said. “Last year we had played together for so long, we knew what each other was doing. This year, that’s a question still. Every game we get more and more use to each other.”


Brian Hall covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]