Dixon leads after USA experience

Tori Dixon spent two weeks with the U.S. national team this summer.

Gophers middle blocker Tori Dixon spikes the ball during a game against North Dakota State on Sept. 10, 2012, at the Sports Pavilion.

Anthony Kwan, Daily File Photo

Gophers middle blocker Tori Dixon spikes the ball during a game against North Dakota State on Sept. 10, 2012, at the Sports Pavilion.

Megan Ryan

Minnesota’s volleyball team is off to a hot start this season with a perfect 7-0 record — all without dropping a set.

So is senior middle blocker Tori Dixon, who started the season by winning Big Ten Player of the Week and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week in consecutive weeks.

Part of Dixon’s hit-the-ground-running mentality this season comes from her two weeks spent with the U.S. national team this summer.

Dixon and two other college players trained in Anaheim, Calif., with the 2012 Olympic silver medalists.

“I really had no expectation other than, ‘You know this is it. This is the highest level of volleyball that I, personally, can play, so I’m going to make the most of it.’” she said. “[I] kind of went in with nothing, but I left with everything.”

Dixon said she didn’t work on any specific aspects of her game with the national team, but she said her defense has shown improvement early this season.

As more of an offensive middle blocker throughout her career, Dixon called her defense “mediocre” with the Gophers and “even worse” at the national team level.

But at the Diet Coke Classic last weekend, the senior helped with nine digs and 15 blocks to go along with her .574 hitting percentage and 44 kills.

That improvement is evident early this season, but Dixon said technical skills weren’t the only thing she learned training with the national squad.

She said Team USA was a good example of what the Gophers are trying to bring into their gym in terms of “keeping each other accountable and making sure everyone’s on the same page.”

Dixon has also emerged as a mentor this year, and freshman outside hitter Kalei Mau said she doesn’t hesitate to seek advice from the upperclassman, at times showering her with questions.

“Sometimes I feel like she is like, ‘OK Kalei, I’ve already answered this question,’” Mau said. “I have so many questions for her. I look up to her so much.”

Dixon said she helps her teammates on a person-by-person basis by suggesting things she learned from various players on the national team.

Though she had a chance to hone her craft this summer, Dixon said possibly the most valuable tidbit she took away was knowledge of what it takes to be on the national team and stay there — like some players on the Olympic roster who’ve been on the team for about 20 years.

While Dixon called the experience “unreal,” Gophers head coach and former Olympic head coach Hugh McCutcheon said the experience is something that can change a player’s mentality.

“A couple of weeks in that gym can be fairly transformative,” he said. “In that, she has an idea of what’s possible and maybe believes in her abilities a little bit more. It can be a very validating experience.”