Less-than ideal weather hasn’t hurt the attendance tonight as Minnesota prepares to take on No. 16 Cal Poly in front of a fairly-packed Sports Pavilion. The Gophers are coming off of a convincing win over No. 4 California last night, while Cal Poly topped Notre Dame (who lost to California in five sets) to start the tourney. With the lineups about to get underway, I’m going to pass it off to our guest-analyst, former Minnesota defensive specialist Krista Chin. Krista will be joining us for several home games this season. First, Minnesota’s starting lineup: MB: Lauren Gibbemeyer OH: Brook Dieter MB: Kelly Schmidt S: Rachel Hartmann OH: Pamela Luiz OH: Kyla Roehrig L: Christine Tan Mark Heise: Teams seem to go two routes when making non-conference schedules. Some teams, like Minnesota and Cal Poly, opt to play the toughest competition in preparation, while teams like California take on somewhat easier schedules. What is the reasoning and benefits for each choice? Krista Chin: Playing the toughest competition in preparation for a season is a benefit in terms of seeing where your team is currently at. Minnesota has had the opportunity to play top ranked teams like (at the time) No. 12 Hawaii and No.4 Cal which give them a chance to test out their offensive and defensive systems against teams who are athletic and have a good enough volleyball IQ to make in-game changes as necessary. Cal has had the opportunity to play (at the time) No. 22 ranked Wichita State and currently ranked No. 2 Nebraska. Playing a team like Nebraska, who has had numerous experiences playing in the NCAA Championship match, is not only exciting for the players, but it brings out challenges for both teams to keep their poise and confidence. Some teams, like California, opt to take on an easier preseason schedule in order to win matches and get some confidence under their belts. For a newer and younger team, this is often beneficial to welcome the newcomers and allow them to adapt to the challenges of playing at the collegiate level. Other teams who opt for an easier schedule choose to do so in order to add more wins and increase their changes for post season opportunities. MH: Minnesota has now out-blocked all seven of its opponents so far this season. As a back row player, does a strong-blocking front court make your job easier? KC: Most definitely! A strong-blocking front court allows the backcourt to change their defensive scheme and get better positioning behind the block. Wherever the block is set up, the defensive players need to fill in the holes and get into the path where the opposing hitter has a better chance of getting a kill. Minnesota’s blocking has improved a tremendous amount over the last year, and this will become a force to reckon with as they enter the Big Ten season. MH: Cal Poly relies heavily on senior outside hitter Kylie Atherstone, giving her 200 total shot attempts already this season. She leads the team in kills per set (3.46), serve aces (16) and is hitting .275. The only other player that has anywhere close to the number of swings, at 190, is struggling this season, hitting just .137. Knowing this, does Minnesota try to set its focus on Atherstone tonight, or do the Gophers still play teams like the Mustangs straight-up? KC: Minnesota will definitely try to keep an eye on Atherstone, however, they can never ignore the other members of the team. When playing a team like Cal Poly, Minnesota needs to be aware of all six players on the court the entire time as any one of them can become a go to player. Minnesota may try to commit block on Atherstone , or they may choose to take her one on one with Kyla Roehrig, if they are in the front row together. The other player who seems to be struggling thus far in the season may become a hot hitter in tonight’s match, especially if Atherstone is being shut down.