Hebert, four volleyball players garner Big Ten honors

by Ben Goessling

In August, they were three of Minnesota’s volleyball team’s biggest unknowns: the gangly junior who was needed to provide its offensive spark, the untested sophomore expected to be its leader and the promising freshman whom Minnesota hoped could use her raw talent to shore up the team’s anemic defense.

But at the end of the most astonishing season in the Gophers’ history, Cassie Busse, Lindsey Vander Well and Paula Gentil are the biggest surprises in the conference.

All three players were tabbed first-team All-Big Ten selections Monday, giving Minnesota the most first-team selections in the conference.

Additionally, Gentil was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and joined teammate Jessica Byrnes on the conference’s all-freshman team.

“When you have a magical year like we’ve had all these things seem to follow,” coach Mike Hebert said. “It never gets old. It’s wonderful to see the response to the efforts of the players.”

Hebert claimed his fifth Big Ten Coach of the Year honor, his second at Minnesota. He won the honor three times at Illinois in 1985, 1986 and 1988. Hebert won his previous Big Ten Coach of the Year honor at Minnesota in 1999.

Hebert led Minnesota to its first Big Ten title in school history with a 17-3 conference record. The 17 wins tied for the most in school history for the Gophers. Hebert also led Minnesota to 30 victories, which tied for the most victories for the Gophers during the NCAA era.

Busse is pacing Minnesota in kills (496), service aces (72) and hitting percentage (.321) this season, and is also second on the team in blocks (122) and third in digs (262). She is currently first in the Big Ten in service aces, fifth in kills and sixth in hitting percentage.

Busse was named Big Ten Player of the Week twice during the regular season.

Gentil is the first Minnesota player in school history to win Defensive Player of the Year in the award’s second season. She also becomes only the third freshman in Minnesota volleyball history, along with Katrien DeDecker (1993) and Andrea Gonzalez (1985), to capture first-team All-Big Ten honors in her first season with the program.

Gentil broke the school record for digs with her 496th last week against Iowa. She also became the first player in school history to surpass the 500 dig plateau, and currently has 521.

Vander Well continues a long line of successful Minnesota setters with her first conference honors. It marks the fourth season in a row that a Gopher setter has been named first-team All-Big Ten.

Lindsey Berg also claimed the honors in 1999, 2000 and 2001. Vander Well is currently sixth on the Minnesota single season assists list with 1,568 on the season heading into the NCAA tournament. She is also second on the team in digs (331) and block solos (16). Vander Well was named Big Ten Player of the Week twice this season. She is currently sixth in the Big Ten in assists per game.

Byrnes continued her successful season by joining Gentil to comprise one-third of the Big Ten All-Freshman Team. Byrnes is second on the team in hitting percentage (.319), third on the team in kills (325), third on the team in blocks (103) and third on the team in assists (39).

She is currently seventh on the Big Ten list in hitting percentage. Byrnes was named to the Diet Coke Classic All-Tournament Team earlier in the season.

Minnesota will host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. The Gophers will play their first match Thursday at 7 p.m. against New Hampshire. Georgia Tech and Florida A&M will play in the first match Thursday at 5 p.m. The winners of both matches will meet in the second round Friday at 6:30 p.m.