Cohesive unit beginning to roll

C.J. Spang

With eight new faces on his 16-member team, Minnesota volleyball coach Mike Hebert was a little concerned with how his young and inexperienced team would perform this season.

The Gophers (15-2 overall, 5-1 Big Ten), are currently ranked ninth in the country, and their only losses were at the hands of current No. 1 Nebraska and No. 8 Wisconsin.

“If somebody would have said, ‘Would you want to be 7-3 (halfway through Big Ten play)?’ I might have said yes, given the power in the conference,” Hebert said.

But now his expectations have changed, as the six freshmen and two transfers have started to gel with the eight returnees – six of whom were a part of both Final Four teams.

“The team has been great,” junior transfer Meghan Cumpston said. “As soon as I walked in, it was like we were all best friends.

“It was a really inviting atmosphere and everything has gone so smoothly.”

The rest of the country has noticed the indoctrination of the new players as well.

“We played an opponent early in the Big Ten season and the coach walked over and said, ‘Hey, I thought you guys were supposed to be down this year,’ ” Hebert said. “Everyone expected us, after losing so many people, to be a questionable team competitively.”

Despite the loss of numerous key players on a team with “terrific team chemistry” as described by Hebert, this year’s squad is beginning to show signs of regaining that chemistry.

“You can ask a lot of coaches who aren’t winning in any sport and they’ll probably talk about team chemistry not being very good,” Hebert said. “I think it’s a critical element in any team’s success.”

But how do you define team chemistry?

“Honestly, I don’t see anyone else being able to see team chemistry unless you’re on the team or you’re one of the coaches, because it’s just something you feel,” sophomore middle blocker Jessy Jones said.

“It’s definitely noticeable when it’s not there Ö you can completely tell.”

Hebert described it in much simpler terms: “That everyone is going to be in it together to the bitter end, whatever that end happens to be.”

But the Gophers have a long road ahead of them after falling from fifth to ninth in the rankings after the loss at Wisconsin.

However, that road seems to be getting shorter with the increasing production from Minnesota’s extremely deep bench, which has not been as deep over the past few seasons.

Also contributing to the Gophers’ success is their defense. Minnesota is atop the Big Ten in hitting percentage by opponents, kills by opponents and assists by opponents.

“I’ve always believed that defense is the stabilizing factor in any team sport,” Hebert said. “If you play good defense, you have a chance to win against anybody.”