Bowman makes her presence felt

by Kent Erdahl

From match to match, game to game, or even point to point, Kelly Bowman’s position on Minnesota’s volleyball team might be in question. But there’s one thing this sophomore can always count on – playing somewhere.

Bowman didn’t have that luxury quite as much last season. As a freshman, Bowman saw limited time in 24 matches for an experienced Gophers team that competed in its first Final Four in program history.

One might not expect a freshman to play much more than that for such an accomplished team, but Bowman wasn’t exactly used to being away from the action.

Throughout her career at Osseo High School, Bowman racked up a laundry list of awards – including the 2001 and 2002 Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year – that helped make her one of Volleyball Magazine’s “Fab 50” national recruits in 2002.

“I can do everything, and last year I was on the bench and I was like, ‘Do I get to go in? Do I get to go in?’ ” Bowman said.

Bowman isn’t exaggerating. Despite her limited playing time as a freshman, Bowman showed she could do anything on the court.

Minnesota coach Mike Hebert used Bowman as a fill-in at outside hitter, setter and defensive specialist. In her first start, as setter against Purdue, her 64 assists were the second-highest by any Gopher making her first start.

Bowman’s play gained attention from the entire coaching staff, but her lack of playing time wasn’t because of her lack of talent – it was the embarrassment of riches the Gophers already had.

As a setter, her natural position, Bowman was backing up a two-time All Big Ten junior Lindsey Taatjes, who had already set the Minnesota single-season assists record, with 1,734 as a sophomore.

Practice pays

Before the season began, Hebert acknowledged the Gophers would be unable to replace All-American opposite hitter Cassie Busse because of her unique talents.

Instead, Hebert decided to experiment using a 6-2 offense, meaning Bowman and Taatjes would rotate setting duties and remain on the court at all times.

To prepare, the teammates were given an assignment over the summer – get used to each other. Although the offense promised to give the Gophers a more-balanced offense, Hebert said it depended on the progress of Bowman and Taatjes.

“I think we both got frustrated at times (during the summer),” Bowman said. “But we just laughed and knew (the offense) was new, and we had to get through it.”

Minnesota has switched the 6-2 with its traditional one-setter offense on the fly.

When the team does revert to its more conventional offense, Bowman steps into a regular hitting role. She ranks fifth on the team in kills and has a .245 hitting percentage.

“It’s surprising how well she’s playing offensively, because at 5-foot-11, she’s not a really big player,” Hebert said. “She’s not the greatest jumper in the world, but she’s a quick jumper and just has all the shots in the world.”

Family time

Besides successfully stepping into a new offense, Bowman has another reason to smile on the court this season.

Her sister, Jen Bowman, joined the Gophers this year after spending her first three years of eligibility at Northern Illinois and Long Beach State.

Jen Bowman, who has often been utilized as a server this season, said she is thrilled to be playing alongside her sister in her final year.

“It’s so much fun to watch her grow as a player, a sister and a teammate,” Jen Bowman said. “We are always on the same page, and we have the same thought process.”

A lesson learned

Kelly Bowman gave one more reason for finding success so early in the season and her career – practicing against Busse.

Although she wasn’t accustomed to sitting on the bench and practicing on the second team, Kelly Bowman said, she gained confidence after attempting to dig Busse’s blistering kills for an entire season.

“I was basically target practice for her on the other side, and I was getting hit all the time,” Kelly Bowman said. “After playing games against Cassie, players now don’t even compare.”

Although Kelly Bowman has a long way to go before she matches the dominance of her former teammate, she’s already helped the Gophers achieve one thing Busse never could – a No. 1 ranking.