Hebert named national volleyball coach of the year

The award is Hebert’s second such accolade in his 28 years of coaching in the NCAA.

Aaron Blake

Postseason awards were the furthest thing from Minnesota volleyball coach Mike Hebert’s thoughts early in his team’s 2003 campaign. In fact, it didn’t even dawn on him until a remarkable turnaround and Final Four appearance brought the season to a close.

But Hebert’s ability to turn a 0-4 start into new heights for the program was so impressive to some that it earned him his second career national coach of the year honor, awarded Wednesday.

Volleyball magazine issued the award. Hebert earned the same accolade from the American Volleyball Coaches Association in 1985 while coaching at Illinois.

“Actually, this was somewhat unexpected, because they usually name somebody that’s had a spectacular year from start to finish,” said Hebert, who has coached for 28 years, including eight at Minnesota. “With the spotty record we had at the start of the season, it never even occurred to me that something like this would happen. It’s flattering.”

The Gophers recovered from the 0-4 nonconference start and 0-2 Big Ten start to finish 26-11 overall and 15-5 in the Big Ten, good for second place. The turnaround was highlighted by a 10-match winning streak in the middle of the conference season.

But the real fireworks came in the postseason.

After breezing by Wisconsin-Green Bay and Northern Iowa in the first and second rounds at the Sports Pavilion, Minnesota advanced to Long Beach, Calif., for the Sweet 16.

The Gophers then upset fourth-ranked Pepperdine and 12th-ranked Washington in the regionals to advance to the school’s first ever Final Four.

In addition, Minnesota was the first-ever fourth seed to win an NCAA volleyball regional. No team seeded that low has ever advanced to the Final Four.

The Gophers fell in the semifinals to the undefeated University of Southern California, which went on the win the championship match.

Though Hebert doesn’t think he fits the profile of the conventional coach of the year, he knows what happened on his team this year was special.

“We knew as we were heading into the second half of the season that we were beginning to get the reins back on the team,” he said. “We could tell it was evolving. It’s a different kind of feeling, but no less special than having a dominating team from wire to wire.”

Busse, Gentil also honored

The magazine also awarded two Gophers players for their efforts this season.

Big Ten player of the year Cassie Busse became the first Minnesota volleyball player to be named a first team All-American by the magazine. She has also been named a first team All-American by the AVCA and a second-teamer by College Sports Television.

Conference defensive player of the year Paula Gentil received honorable mention from the magazine. She has also garnered first-team CSTV and second-team AVCA awards. She had a Big Ten-record 656 digs this year.