Aloha, sweet 16

Brian Stensaas

The Minnesota volleyball team bid good riddance to -30 degree wind-chill temperatures Tuesday morning aboard a flight bound for tropical Honolulu.
Most of the Gophers are making their second trip in as many seasons to the sweet 16, and the Hawaiian Islands. For others, it’s their first time over the Pacific. And for one, the sights of Honolulu are a trip back down memory lane.
Junior team captain Lindsey Berg started her volleyball ways living in Hawaii for the first 17 years of her life. A graduate of Punahou High School in Honolulu, Berg was a three-time Hawaii co-player of the year and won a state title in 1996.
When it came time to think about a collegiate career, Berg was dead set on either Hawaii or a solid California program. Then she took a trip to Minnesota.
“Before I started getting recruited, I didn’t even know where Minnesota was,” Berg said. “But there were so many opportunities here and I had to take advantage of them. It came down to what this school had to offer me education-wise.”
Making an instant impact, Berg became the team’s starting setter during the first week of her freshman season and has been there ever since.
In her two-plus years in a Gopher uniform, Berg has bagged several awards including a roster spot on the 1999 and 2000 all-Big Ten teams and the 1999 AVCA all-district team. Before coming to Minnesota, she was tagged as one of the “USAToday Fab-50” volleyball recruits.
This week won’t be the first time Berg returns to Oahu as a Gopher.
To open the 1999 campaign, the Gophers traveled to Honolulu and took a disappointing third at the Hawaiian Classic. Berg hopes to give her home crowd a better show this time around.
“I definitely want to do better this time,” Berg said. “We had a tough match out there last time and played awful in the other. We’re better now. I want to show my friends from high school what we can do.”
Minnesota coach Mike Hebert is looking forward to having Berg’s friends and family added to the Minnesota cheering section at the Stan Sheriff Center this week.
“Lindsey is going to be extra motivated to do well there,” he said. “We’ll have a lot of her fans there, it is a definite advantage for us.”
It may seem the tropical climate of Hawaii would be a distraction for the players, but they were just there a year ago.
This time, the stakes are higher.
A win Thursday against UC Santa Barbara and the Gophers advance as one of the final eight teams in the nation.
“Last year we were the underdog all the time,” Lisa Aschenbrenner said. “We went into (the sweet 16) last year and were really intimidated. Now, we think we have a lot more still to do. We want to keep moving on.”
While the beaches and palm trees of Hawaii are a welcome image of home for Berg and a friendly reminder for the veterans, others on the team will witness the beautiful sites for the first time.
Freshman Erin Lorenzen, who hails from Pipestone, MN, is one of those Hawaiian first-timers.
“I don’t think we’ll have a hard time being focused there,” she said. “I’m excited about being there, but we’ve all had the same goals all season and know what we have to do.”
Hebert agreed, adding, “I don’t think we’ll have a distraction problem. We’re off-setting the excitement of being in Hawaii by being this far in the tournament.
“Then again, Waikiki Beach isn’t exactly strolling across the frozen Mississippi River.”
The Gophers take on the Gauchos Thursday night at 5 p.m. Hawaiian time, a four hour time difference from the time in Minneapolis.
In order to get ready for the time change, Minnesota will have two full days to adapt to the differencial.
“There’s no doubt about it, time will be a problem for us,” Hebert said. “We will have to be very focused to overcome it, and I think we’ll be just fine.”

Brian Stensaas covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]