Volleyball a family affair for Beal

Freshman Maddie Beal’s brother and father played volleyball in college.

Rachel Timmerman

Volleyball was not originally in the cards for Gophers freshman Maddie Beal.

When she was younger, the sport wasn’t a priority, despite strong family ties to the game.

The Colorado native tried her hand at a variety of sports, including lacrosse, swimming and soccer.

“I loved watching volleyball when I was younger, but it wasn’t really like, ‘This is what I want to do when I’m older,’” Beal said. “I used to think, ‘I never want to play volleyball in college,’ because I wanted to do something different from my family.”

The family tradition was playing college volleyball.

Beal’s older brother, Mitch, is a senior at Ohio State playing volleyball, where their dad played and coached.

Their father, Doug, has had a lifetime of experience with volleyball and is now the CEO of USA Volleyball.

After coaching at Ohio State, Doug went on to play for the U.S. men’s national team. He later coached that same team until 2005, when current Gophers head coach Hugh McCutcheon took over.

McCutcheon said he first met Doug in 2001, and he served as an assistant coach under Doug at the 2004 Olympics.

Maddie said her dad never pressured her or her brother to play the sport, despite his large influence on the volleyball world.

“The fact that our two kids play volleyball is wonderful,” Doug said. “The fact that love the sport so much is better.”

Maddie and her brother spent time at the gym while they were growing up, hanging out with their father and his team. Mitch said those experiences influenced his decision to play in college.

Growth at Minnesota

Over the years, McCutcheon has gotten to know the Beal family well.

But Maddie isn’t with the Gophers because of McCutcheon’s relationship with the family.

“The reason we recruited Maddie was because of her volleyball ability,” McCutcheon said. “The other stuff is there and it’s great, but it was never a part of the decision-making process. Maddie is here because she can play [and] she can help our team be successful.”

Doug said it’s terrific that his daughter is playing for McCutcheon, and he said knowing the coach and being comfortable with him was a big part of Maddie’s decision to go to Minnesota.

Since arriving on campus, McCutcheon said she has been doing great, adjusting to the transition from playing middle blocker with her club team to right side when needed.

Mitch said he and McCutcheon remain good friends and occasionally chat about Maddie’s improvements.

“Whenever I chat with him about Maddie, he has nothing but good things to say,” Mitch said.

During her time with the Gophers, Maddie said she has learned more than she ever has playing volleyball. 

But her new coaches aren’t her only resource — she also continues to learn from her father and brother, too.

“My dad, he coaches me and helps me out a ton,” Maddie said. “I really look up to him.”

The same goes for her older brother.

“[Mitch] is the one who pushes me,” she said.

Mitch said he’s seen his sister grow exponentially on and off the court recently.

“It’s really cool from a big brother standpoint,” he said. “She’s matured so much since the last time I saw her.”

Mitch surprised his sister at the Gophers’ September tournament in Toledo, Ohio.

And Maddie said she hopes to go to Ohio to cheer on her brother during his senior year, despite the Big Ten rivalry.

“My dad can join in [on the rivalry] because he played for Ohio State,” Mitch said. “It’ll be two Buckeyes against one Gopher.”

With a family full of volleyball players, the sport grew on Maddie’s mom, Nonie Beal. She never played volleyball, but Maddie said that doesn’t stop her from trying to coach the Gophers player after games.

“She loves coming to our matches,” Maddie said. “She’s my brother and [my] biggest fan.”

Doug said he and his wife are proud of both of their kids.

“Whatever level they play at [and] whatever contributions they make, my wife and I are pretty big fans of the kids,” Doug said.

Maddie has seen action in five matches this season, and she will have opportunities to play more. 

“We’ll coach the heck out of her,” McCutcheon said, “teach her [the] best we can, [and] the rest is up to her.”

Doug said he hopes to see his daughter improve so she can earn a larger role on the team.

Even though it’s difficult to crack the starting lineup as a freshman, the program’s successful track record is one of the reasons Maddie said she chose Minnesota.

“I think I’ve grown so much by coming here,” she said. “I love it here. I can’t wait for the next four years.”