Hebert expects tough game from alma mater

Brian Stensaas

The last time Minnesota’s volleyball team witnessed a point scored at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu, UCLA was scoring its 15th point of a decisive fifth game to win 3-2.
The loss sent the Gophers back to Minneapolis — with a 1-2 Hawaiian Classic record — disappointed and uninspired.
That was Sept. 5, 1999 and a whole lot has changed for Minnesota in the past 15 months. The team has matured both physically and mentally, dealt with tragedy and shock and improved its game immensely.
Jump to present day. The current Gophers are the No. 2 seed in the west regional of the NCAA tournament and ready to take on UC-Santa Barbara in the sweet 16. Held in Honolulu, the match has its fair share of ironic twists.
Minnesota coach Mike Hebert received his bachelor’s degree from UCSB and was a college teammate with Dave Shoji — current head coach at Hawaii.
But Hebert is all business.
“I don’t really think of it as playing my alma matter, I think of it as us playing a very skilled team,” Hebert said.
“UCSB is among the most defensive teams in the country. Defense is their signature. They’re not necessarily as determined at the net, but they can serve, pass and dig with the best of them.”
Hebert and the Gophers will have their hands full with the Gauchos tonight when they take on UCSB in Honolulu at 9 p.m. central time. UCSB enters the round of 16 coming off a huge five-game match with Stanford in which the Gauchos had a stunning comeback in game five.
Twenty-six year coaching veteran Kathy Gregory went as far as to call the match as a whole the greatest match she ever played in.
The Gauchos’ highlight is bringing Brie Lampe to the floor. Lampe, a 6-foot junior who suffers from cystic fibrosis led UCSB in the second round of the tournament with 25 kills and a .385 hitting percentage.
Rest assured, Minnesota will not rely on its height advantage in Honolulu.
“They’re one of those great teams that won’t go away,” Hebert said. “They have the ability to topple teams that are taller than they are.”
This is the 20th year in a row the Gauchos have been selected to the NCAA tournament and Hebert is well aware of the strong UCSB tradition. After all, he was part of it.
“It’s a great program. Dave and I were talking about it the other day and just how many skilled players have come out of there,” he said.
Thursday night’s match will be Hebert’s 998th of an outstanding career spanning 25 seasons. He has coached nine teams to the sweet 16 and has led teams to the NCAA final four twice.
“Any of the four teams in this regional can advance on to the championship,” Hebert said.
“In years past, I’ve seen one clear team that is so much above the rest I would have been surprised at any other team moving on — like last year at Penn State. This year, I will not be surprised at the winner.”

Brian Stensaas covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]