Lineup no longer in flux after weekend in Texas

by Chris Lempesis

Last week, Minnesota volleyball coach Mike Hebert said he was hoping his team would come out of the weekend’s Fort Worth Plaza Invitational with a more solid playing rotation.

The fifth-ranked Gophers return from Texas having not only achieved this, but also having picked up a few more wins and another trophy to add to the case.

Victorious in each of its three tournament games, Minnesota claimed the title to improve its record to 10-1 on the season. The Gophers defeated both Campbell (30-10, 30-18, 30-18) and Maine (30-19, 30-15, 30-19) in three games before downing host Texas Christian in four (20-30, 30-26, 30-17, 30-17).

Hebert said he was pleased in the progress his team is making towards finding a set rotation.

“The weekend did provide us with enough information to go on,” he said. “I don’t think everything is completely set, but I think we’re ready to take on the early part of the Big Ten schedule with the lineup we used against TCU.”

The lineup, according to junior middle blocker Meredith Nelson, consists of herself and senior Jessy Jones in the middle; senior Jessica Byrnes on the right side; junior All-American Kelly Bowman and freshman Rachel Hartmann setting the team’s 6-2 offense; junior Malama Peniata playing the outside; and junior Meghan Cumpston and sophomore Sarah Florian playing the remaining outside position.

Senior All-American libero Paula Gentil, obviously, also figures to play a big role.

Byrnes said she’s confident in the abilities of this group.

“We’re pretty happy with what we have going on, knowing that the people that we have on the floor are doing a really good job,” she said.

A cohesive, confident group will be important for Minnesota as the preseason schedule is over.

And the conference figures to be as tough as ever in 2005. Three other teams – Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State – are ranked in the Top 25 heading into the season with two more teams, Purdue and Illinois, just outside the Top 25.

“The Big Ten is always such a strong conference and that’s what makes it so fun,” Nelson said. “Every team is ready to play every night and so there’s a lot of upsets, a lot of different people winning different matches or games.”

Minnesota opens the conference schedule on the road against No. 13 Wisconsin on Friday in Madison, Wis.

While the Gophers said they know how tough of a conference opener they have, they also know that they are ready to go – finally.

“We’re really excited at the progress we’ve made over preseason,” Byrnes said.

“We’re where we want to be right now.”

Three earn honors

Three Gophers – Nelson, Gentil and Bowman – were named to the All-Tournament Team at the Fort Worth Plaza Invitational with Nelson taking home tournament MVP honors.