Dixon flourishes in international play

Tori Dixon competed in the Pan American Cup last week in Mexico.

Gophers middle blocker Tori Dixon spikes the ball during a match against North Dakota State on Sept. 10, 2012, at the Sports Pavilion.

Daily File Photo, Anthony Kwan

Gophers middle blocker Tori Dixon spikes the ball during a match against North Dakota State on Sept. 10, 2012, at the Sports Pavilion.

by Jack Satzinger

Tori Dixon’s transition to the international game has been a smooth one.

Dixon, who played for former Olympic coach Hugh McCutcheon at the University of Minnesota, has been improving at a rapid pace.

The U.S. women’s volleyball team lost to the Dominican Republic in the Pan American Cup championship Thursday, but Dixon left the competition in Mexico with a trophy in hand. She earned the title of the competition’s best blocker.

“I thought I played probably my best tournament with the USA uniform on,” Dixon said.

Dixon is less than a year removed from her last match with the Gophers and is quickly adjusting to the demands of international play.

McCutcheon had a hand in that preparation, Dixon said, especially since the U.S. and Minnesota teams run similar systems.

“I think we apply similar principles in modes of learning,” McCutcheon said.

McCutcheon coached the U.S. men’s volleyball team to a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In 2012, he led the U.S. women’s team to a second-place finish.

McCutcheon left the national team to coach the Gophers. U.S. assistant coach Jamie Morrison is one of the coaches who is currently mentoring Dixon.

“She’s growing into being a large contributor on our team. She’s getting better at a very fast rate, and that excites us,” he said.

Dixon has rounded out her offensive game, Morrison said, and by playing more international games, she’ll grow as a player.

“For her, it’s about gaining international experience. The game is played in different ways in different parts of the world, and she needs to see all of those in order to be the best volleyball player that she can be,” Morrison said.

Dixon is living in Anaheim, Calif., this summer, but she’s hardly settled. After spending time in Mexico for the championship, she’s visiting Minnesota this weekend to move out of her college apartment.

From there, the first-team All-American will play in California and Hawaii for the USA Volleyball Cup.

All of that traveling and change could knock a young professional like Dixon off her game, but Morrison said she’s exceptionally resilient.

“The thing that I think has impressed us the most the entire time is just [that] she’s steady,”

Morrison said. “She doesn’t have many ups or downs. She kind of stays the same.”

Dixon’s ability to quickly adjust to the international game and keep a level head could take her far, perhaps even as far as the Olympics — the pinnacle of international play and a place familiar to McCutcheon.

“She’s more than capable of becoming one of the best middle blockers in the United States,” Morrison said. “Maybe even one of the best middle blockers in the world.”