Three All-Americans lead volleyball team in 2009

The Gophers look to improve on the 2008 Sweet 16 exit.

Led by head coach Mike Hebert , the Minnesota volleyball team has made the NCAA tournament 10 years in a row, and 12 of the past 13. With three All-Americans returning as well as the No. 1 ranked freshmen class in the nation, expectations are high for the 2009 season. âÄúAs a team, our goal is to try to make it to the final four,âÄù junior Brook Dieter said. âÄúI think we all know that we have a really strong team this year.âÄù Dieter, a 2008 Second-Team All-American, joins fellow All-Americans junior Lauren Gibbemeyer and senior Christine Tan as veterans Hebert is counting on to carry what will be a young squad. âÄúI think any successful team has to be built on upper-class leadership,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúThatâÄôs the group thatâÄôs going to make it or break it for us.âÄù The 2008 season saw Minnesota finish 27-7, good for second in the Big Ten. Ranked as the sixth overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Gophers lost to Iowa State in the second round to end the season. Penn State, which won the 2007 National Championship, repeated as champions in 2008 with an undefeated record of 38-0. Having a top-tier opponent within the conference is something Dieter believes benefits the Minnesota program. âÄúI absolutely love playing against Penn State,âÄù Dieter said. âÄúKnowing theyâÄôre pushing themselves in the off-season âÄî theyâÄôre doing their workouts in the summer âÄî really makes us push [ourselves] to be better than them.âÄù If the Gophers are to make a run at the final four, the key to success could rest in the hands of their new recruits. Five of the 14 players are incoming freshmen. Handling the pressure of being the No. 1 ranked recruiting class is something Dieter knows will be no easy feat. âÄúI think having that [ranking] really does add a lot of pressure,âÄù Dieter said. âÄúKnowing that you are expected to be No. 1, itâÄôs really hard to live up to those expectations.âÄù Having All-Americans on the team giving advice to the freshmen is something junior Hailey Cowles sees as a way to quicken the development and ease the pressure of the young players. âÄúTo hear from someone who is award winning or an All-American, you take it to heart,âÄù Cowles said. âÄúObviously they know what theyâÄôre doing and they know how to succeed, so them telling you what to do really helps.âÄù Along with the incoming freshmen, Minnesota will also be welcoming two senior transfers. Megan Wilson , a transfer from Missouri, is someone Hebert believes can step in immediately and fill a big role for the Gophers. âÄúMegan Wilson brings a full repertoire of skills,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúSheâÄôs just a stabilizing kind of a kid, and makes everybody play better around her.âÄù The other transfer is Taylor Carico from USC. Carico is a Second-Team All-American who Hebert believes can provide both experience in big-game situations from her days in the Pac 10 conference as well as skill at the center position. Despite the influx of new talent, veteran leadership on the team can be found in Dieter, Gibbemeyer and Cowles. Teammates since their club level days in high school, six years as teammates has brought a sense of familiarity to each others playing styles. âÄúI think itâÄôs helped us a lot,âÄù Gibbemeyer said. âÄúJust knowing that we really know how each other play, we donâÄôt really have to worry about each other, just because weâÄôve been playing [together] for so long.âÄù The team opens practice Aug. 9 and the season opener is Aug. 28 against Kansas State in the AVCA Showcase. Cowles said she hopes that game is the first on a long road that eventually ends in Tampa Bay, Fla., the sight of the 2009 NCAA Final Four. âÄúEveryone has the expectation of going really far into the tournament, making it into the final four, and putting MinnesotaâÄôs name back on the map,âÄù Cowles said.