Gophers headed to Japan this spring

The team traveled there once before in 1998.

Sam Kraemer

The Gophers volleyball team will travel to Japan next year as part of its spring preseason.

Minnesota accepted an invitation from the Japan Volleyball Association to train and compete against the All-Japan University team in March at the National Training Center in Tokyo.

The All-Japan University team is preparing for the World University Games in July 2015 and will use the competition against the talented Minnesota team as practice.

“Minnesota sends numerous players to the national team and we believe it’s beneficial for our national teams to compete against them. We look forward to the competition,” said Yuko Arakida, chairperson of the National Teams’ Commission of the Japan Volleyball Association, in a release.

Gophers head coach Hugh McCutcheon said the program had been eyeing the opportunity for a while.

“We’ve been wanting to take advantage of the international trip that the NCAA regulations allow you every four years,” he said.

The trip will be the second time the Gophers have competed in Japan; the team traveled there in August 1998.

Playing against an international opponent with a different style of volleyball will benefit the Gophers, McCutcheon said.

“We’re a pretty young group. To play more matches and train more will certainly be to our advantage this spring,” he said.

And the Gophers have other ties to Japan beyond the past and upcoming competitions.

McCutcheon has been to the country on multiple occasions, both as a player and national team coach for the U.S.

Nao Ikeda, director of operations for the Minnesota volleyball program, is a native of Japan, and Koichiro Kanno, the Gophers’ volunteer assistant coach, is also from Japan.

Sophomore setter Erica Handley said the trip abroad will give the Gophers an added incentive during the spring preseason.

“The spring is a long season because we just do a lot of training and lifting. Knowing we’ll be traveling and playing some tough competition will be nice,” Handley said.

Alyssa Goehner, a freshman outside hitter, has played abroad in the past with the U.S. junior national training team and the Northern Lights Volleyball Club.

But that previous international experience hasn’t stunted her excitement for the trip.                                      

“I’m really excited. … It’ll be cool to see their level of play and how they play volleyball over there, because it’s different all over the world,” Goehner said.

The trip will be special, too, because most college teams don’t travel to Asia, she said.

“Not many colleges get to go to Japan. I think most of them stay in Europe, so it’ll be cool going beyond that,” Goehner said.