Gophers setter assists U to victories

Tim Klobuchar

Redemption came quickly for Gophers volleyball Coach Mike Hebert.
Two years ago, while he was coaching at Illinois, Hebert first recruited, then rejected a high school All-American named Becky Bauer. Bauer, who went to Bloomington Jefferson High School, eventually chose Minnesota to continue her volleyball career.
This year Hebert got a second chance to coach Bauer — a chance for which he’s grateful.
“I picked a player over Becky who turned out to be a player that I shouldn’t have recruited — I should’ve picked Becky,” Hebert admitted. “I made a mistake, so I lucked out that I get to coach her finally.”
Hebert must feel exceptionally lucky lately. Bauer, a junior setter, was named the player of the week for both the Big Ten (an honor she shared with Wisconsin’s Kelly Kennedy) and the American Volleyball Coaches Association for her performance against Iowa and Illinois last weekend.
She totalled 145 assists in the two matches and had 14 kills and eight blocks against Iowa, both career highs.
Bauer is nonchalant about all the attention she’s been receiving. Sometimes she re-directs it as deftly as she would a volleyball with a flick of her wrists.
“Hitters like Katrien (DeDecker) help a lot,” Bauer said. “We have a lot of good hitters on the team, and that’s a big reason for my success.”
She also credits Hebert, who turned her away two years ago.
“I’ve improved more since he’s got here than I did in the first two years I was here,” Bauer said. “He knows how to teach, and teach while he coaches.”
Other times she’s not even aware of the accolades that come her way. She thought that the Big Ten and the AVCA honors were the same thing until Thursday.
“I didn’t know there was a difference between them until just now,” she said. “I was watching the tape of the match last night and the announcers mentioned it.”
Bauer does realize her importance to the team, however. She’s similar to a quarterback, responsible for coordinating much of the team’s offense. This season, that usually entails getting the ball to DeDecker, Minnesota’s senior outside hitter who’s leading the nation in kills per game.
Those tactics have worked most of this year. The Gophers are 12-6 and have three wins in the Big Ten, one of them over then-No. 8 Ohio State.
Occasionally, though, Bauer has to adjust, as she did against Wisconsin on Wednesday when the Badgers sent waves of blockers at DeDecker.
“If there’s a 6-4 blocker on the other side and I set it there, that’s obviously not the smartest thing I could’ve done,” she said. “I need to know who’s on their side of the net and our side of the net.”
Bauer also takes it upon herself to be the emotional center of the team.
“I need to keep everyone else cool and calm,” she said, “and I have to stay calm. If I make the wrong decision it brings everyone else down.”
Bauer, crucial to her team’s success on the court, still maintains a sense of humor while not competing.
She posed for a photo Thursday while her teammates gathered around her in a semicircle, who all were holding volleyballs. The idea was that they would toss the balls into the air, and the photographer would snap the shot as the balls rained down around Bauer.
But Bauer tore a page out of the “Happy Gilmore” script by gritting her teeth and challenging her teammates to peg her with the balls dodgeball-style.
The Gophers, aware that Bauer already has a knee injury that requires daily treatment, wisely stuck to the original gameplan.
“She’s a very fun person,” Hebert said. “She’s one of the more animated personalities on the team. She adds to staying loose.”
Hebert is obviously glad to finally have Bauer on his team, and so are Bauer’s teammates.
“As the setter, you’re the one that pretty much has to run the offense,” DeDecker said. “I think she’s done a very good job of that. She’s a good leader on the court.”
Hebert didn’t make too many mistakes in his coaching career at Illinois, but now that he’s with Minnesota, turning Bauer away was the best one he ever made.