Gophers bench play important in prep for Badgers

Minnesota has had players come off of the bench to make an impact this year.

Gophers outside hitter Karlie Hauer passes the ball during a match Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at the Sports Pavilion.

Chelsea Gortmaker, Daily File Ph

Gophers outside hitter Karlie Hauer passes the ball during a match Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at the Sports Pavilion.

David Nelson

Cheerleaders, second stringers and backups are all terms to describe bench players.

But on the Gophers volleyball team, the preferred label is “important.”

A main factor for Minnesota’s 18-3 record and second-place standing in the Big Ten has been the play off its bench — a core group of players head coach Hugh McCutcheon said he’s fortunate to have on his roster.

“One of the great advantages of having some depth in your squad is that when you get into practice, practice is tough,” he said. “You’ve got two teams going at it hard. So you get to work both the offensive and the defensive side.”

The Gophers have made many changes to their starting lineup 21 matches into the season, but McCutcheon said he isn’t worried about the unpredictability.

“We have depth on this team — lots of people can play well,” he said. “When someone isn’t having their best day, we have no qualms about making a change.”

That depth was on display last Saturday against Michigan as junior outside hitter Adrianna Nora and sophomore outside hitter Karlie Hauer both received playing time on the right side.

McCutcheon said he started Nora because of her play against Michigan State the match before, but he went to Hauer down the stretch.

“We felt that Hauer was going to give us a better right-side block,” he said. “She can serve the ball well. She plays good defense. She can side out. So versus that particular team, that was the right solution.”

Hauer has played in 29 sets this year, averaging 1.76 kills per set and 1.59 digs per set. Her attitude off the bench has also impressed her teammates.

“She is not only a really good passer and a really good defender, but she also hits, too, at pretty much every position,” senior middle blocker Tori Dixon said. “She comes in and makes an impact wherever she’s needed.”

Hauer said she’s content just contributing to the team.

“Whether I’m starting or not, I can go in and can do my job, and I can help the team,” she said. “It’s just nice to know the coaches and the players trust me enough to go in and make a difference if I need to.”

Dixon said players like Hauer will be important down the stretch.

“I think having those types of players who are always ready, and just willing to help the team in whatever way we need them to, that’s just really important,” Dixon said.