Freshman trio begin fourth year together

by Mark Heise

The Minnesota volleyball team is making full use of its recruiting class this season.

The Gophers have taken advantage of pulling in the fourth-best freshman class in the nation, starting three freshmen on an already-potent roster.

As unusual as it is to start three freshmen on a team contending for a conference title, Minnesota still managed to one-up the situation, bringing in three freshmen who have played together for the last three years.

It might be that added combination that has coach Mike Hebert so comfortable with his new-look team.

“One thing that really helps this transition is that they’re all very skilled, which allows them to have an immediate impact,” he said. “And then the fact that they already have played together allows them to interact on the court, bypassing the ‘get to know you’ stage. That’s extremely important.”

The three freshmen, consisting of outside hitter Brook Dieter, middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer and defensive specialist Hailey Cowles, have been a part of the Northern Lights Junior Olympics together since their sophomore years in high school. And they’ve managed to develop friendships since.

Dieter recalled getting to know Gibbemeyer while attending a mandatory team meeting her sophomore year.

“We sat next to each other and were wearing the same clothes,” Dieter said. “Then we started talking and it went from music to movies to humor; we had a lot in common.”

It didn’t take long for Dieter to admit that she probably didn’t catch much of the actual meeting, but she still said it was well worth it.

“I wouldn’t take that day back to be in that meeting and not talk to Lauren,” she said. “I got a best friend out of it.”

Cowles said she felt comfortable enough with her teammates to commit to Minnesota on their recommendation.

“Brook and Lauren committed to the ‘U’ one year before me, and they started talking to me about coming,” she said. “I thought it’d be the best experience, already knowing two people as best friends.”

Another addition came later as Northern Lights coach Adam Beamer decided to leave the Junior Olympics for the fall and volunteer for the Gophers.

Beamer said it seemed like the best time, with three players already headed to Minnesota, calling it a great opportunity to learn more about coaching.

Hebert said he readily welcomed Beamer.

“It’s been great because we’re able to ask Adam several questions about how to get the most out of these players,” he said. “He knows those kids very well. I think their adjustment process has been accelerated because of Adam.”

The results have been increasingly positive.

Dieter has reached double-figures in both kills and digs in the first four matches of the year, while Gibbemeyer is averaging over nine kills and five blocks per match.

Cowles has averaged an ace per match, bringing an aggressive serving style to the lineup.

The success is somewhat surprising as some apprehension is usually expected when jumping straight into a Division I lineup.

But the three have managed to maintain their composure, even while playing top teams like No. 2 Stanford. Gibbemeyer credited the older players for helping with that.

“I feel support from everybody here,” she said. “The team’s always giving insight on how I can improve. It’s great.”

Between athletic ability, friendship, having plenty of experience to guide them along, and a combination of old and new coaches, this trio has successfully managed to make an instant impact for the Gophers.

And for a coach who says he’s looking for a championship, they might just be the perfect fit.