U volleyball poised for big season

Gophers have first big test against No. 22 Kansas State and No. 3 Nebraska this weekend.

Coming off the 2008 season that featured a 27-7 record and an NCAA Tournament berth, there are plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about the 2009 Gophers volleyball team. It’s rare in any collegiate sport to be able to have a combination of both returning talent and high-level newcomers, but this team features both. Minnesota had three representatives on the preseason all -Big Ten volleyball team in outside hitter Brook Dieter, middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer and defensive specialist Christine Tan. The Gophers also boast the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, landing three of the top 50 high school seniors of 2008, including No. 7 Katherine Harms, No. 33 Mia Tabberson and No. 46 Brianna Haugen. They also landed the top high school recruit out of Canada, the 6-foot-6-inch Tabitha Love. However, Minnesota did not stop acquiring talent there. The Gophers also brought in Taylor Carico, a USC Senior transfer, who in just three seasons was second all-time on the Trojans assists list and was a PAC-10 conference honorable mention a year ago. “I like our team a lot,” Gophers Head Coach Mike Hebert said, entering his 14th season. “I like our chemistry, and when you get to this level, chemistry is a critical part of winning at an elite level.” The team clicking well so early on has a lot to do with leadership being provided by players that have been around the program for several seasons, Hebert said. The Gophers players have been taking it upon themselves to come in throughout the summer and work together as much as possible so they can be ready to play at a high level right from the get go of the season, Gibbemeyer said. “We started running captain’s practices two weeks before the season even started, and I think we have been able to get everyone on the same page that way,” Gibbemeyer said. “It’s been a really easy transition, the competitiveness has been awesome and everyone has been contributing, and the freshman have been getting acclimated very quickly.” The high level of talent on this Gophers team is not only catching local attention, but the national spotlight too. Minnesota starts the season ranked second in the Big Ten, only behind defending national champion Penn State. The Gophers are also ranked No. 11 nationally in the preseason American Volleyball Coaches Association Coaches Poll. “We’re aiming high,” Dieter said. “Going to the Final Four has been something that we’ve talked about in this program, and this year it’s close, we can really feel it.âÄù The Gophers will get a chance to prove just how prepared they are as they open the season this Friday in the AVCA Showcase in Omaha against No. 22 Kansas State, and then follow that up with an even bigger matchup on Saturday as they square off against No. 3 Nebraska.