Gophers take special trip to Japan

Minnesota will have no break this spring as it heads to Japan to train and compete against All-Japan University Team.

Outside hitter Alexis Hart jumps to spike the ball at the Maturi Pavilion on Friday, Dec. 7, 2019. The Gophers were upset by Oregon, losing 3 sets to 1. 

Jack Rodgers

Outside hitter Alexis Hart jumps to spike the ball at the Maturi Pavilion on Friday, Dec. 7, 2019. The Gophers were upset by Oregon, losing 3 sets to 1. 

David Mullen

While many students from across the country are heading somewhere tropical for spring break, the Gophers volleyball team has a special spring break trip of its own.

The team will be training and competing against the All-Japan University Team at the International Pacific University in Okayama, Japan, which is southwest of Tokyo.  

This is the Gophers’ third time they’ve been invited to Japan. The first trip was in 1998, with the most recent in 2015.

“We are delighted to welcome Gopher volleyball to Okayama-City,” Yuko Arakida, chairperson of the National Teams’ Commission of the Japan Volleyball Association, said to Gopher Sports.

In 2015 the student athletes trained and competed at Ajinomoto National Training Center. At the time, the University of Minnesota was the only college from the U.S. to be invited to Japan’s NTC.

“Last time it was great,” said head coach Hugh McCutcheon. “I think anytime you get to experience a different culture and a different country is a really big plus.”

For the athletes who are traveling to Asia for the first time, being excited might be an understatement.

“I was super excited [when I found out], because I’ve never been to Japan,” said opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy. “To be able to go there with a great group of girls and still be able to do what we love against a whole different country … is pretty awesome.”

On top of sightseeing and new cultural experiences for the athletes, they will be seeing new systems and techniques they aren’t accustomed to in the Big Ten — or even in the U.S. 

“I don’t know what their [playing] style is, and I’m … really stoked and excited to play against a different type of volleyball,” said outside hitter Alexis Hart.

In addition to learning and playing against a new system of volleyball, it also provides an opportunity for athletic growth.

“It’s a really good opportunity to compete against someone else who isn’t in the same gym,” Hart said. “It’ll give us a chance to see where everyone’s at.”

While in Japan, the team will continue acclimating Minnesota’s new roster additions to the team’s culture.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to somehow, kind of not teach, but show them how we go with our culture,” Hart said. 

The two new additions are setter Kylie Miller, a senior transfer from UCLA, and middle blocker Shea Rubright, an incoming freshman who came to the University a semester early. 

The Gophers volleyball program will return to regular season action in August.