Reinhart’s defense, character show on the court

Jeff Barthel

Minnesota’s volleyball team has won four Big Ten matches in a row. The team is now 11-7 and 4-2 in the conference after it defeated Wisconsin three days ago.

Playing a key role in the team’s success of late has been a 5-foot-8-inch junior from White Bear Lake, Minn.

Defensive specialist Lisa Reinhart is this particular player. A quiet leader on the court, Reinhart is anything but quiet outside team practices and matches.

“She’s funny,” libero Paula Gentil said. “She’s really something.”

Several people said they agree.

“She’s one of the goofiest and most talkative players on the team,” senior Cassie Busse said. “She’s really good at lifting up spirits.”

One would not notice this if they were to see her play. On the court, Reinhart can usually be found sliding all over the floor, scooping up digs to keep points alive for her team.

Reinhart pitched in 13 digs in Minnesota’s road victory at rival Wisconsin (12-5, 4-2) on Sunday. Her efforts helped the Gophers out-dig the Badgers by a 74-66 mark.

Gentil, who was Big Ten defensive player of the year last season, has noticed her teammate’s efforts.

“It’s really easy to work with Rhino,” Gentil said. “I love when she’s next to me more than anybody else.”

The two – Reinhart and Gentil – seemed to have developed a good relationship.

“Passing-wise,” Gentil said, “I’ve played a lot with Rhino and know her abilities.”

Gentil, who usually plays around the middle of the court, needs to have strong communication with her teammates.

In the Wisconsin victory, Gentil and Reinhart were able to acquire several digs and patrol their teammates to a victory over the 21st-ranked Badgers.

Reinhart was not such a defensive player in high school. She was an outside hitter, but she said she had a lot of guidance.

Her volleyball coach at White Bear Lake was Wee Winn. Reinhart joked that her team was always supposed to win because of her coach’s name.

Reinhart said she really appreciated some of the things Winn taught her about volleyball. Winn also gave her many lifelong lessons, Reinhart said.

“He taught me many values outside of volleyball,” Reinhart said.

Reinhart’s toughness helped the team win a Big Ten championship last season. She happily reflected on the experience of winning the conference title.

“It was surreal,” Reinhart said. “It’s an incredible feeling of realizing all that you’ve done and worked for.”

To get back to the Big Ten championship, the Gophers have a ways to go. However, Reinhart’s defense might be of good help.

The 2003 team media guide describes Reinhart as one of the big reasons for a much-improved Gophers defense in 2002.

“She was the spark plug that started our success last season,” Busse said.

After coming off the bench in many of the team’s first matches of the season, Reinhart has started the Gophers’ last five matches.

Minnesota has won four of these five matches, recovering from losing their first two.

Having Reinhart starting at defensive specialist has helped produce victories for Minnesota.

Reinhart will celebrate her 21st birthday this Saturday when the Gophers play at conference-leading Penn State.

Minnesota, which is in a logjam at second place in the Big Ten – tied with Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Purdue – will also take on 1-5 Ohio State this weekend.