Bench helping Minnesota compensate for graduation

Robert Mews

After losing eight players last season, Minnesota’s volleyball team has had to rely on youth and a deeper bench to keep the team near the top of the Big Ten standings.

Coach Mike Hebert said uncertainty with the team’s lineup earlier in the season has given many players a chance to come off the bench and contribute.

“What matters is who plays next to whom,” Hebert said. “You want people who can communicate really well out on the floor.”

Hebert said he has not been particularly happy with the team’s lineup this season. However, the shake up is giving some players a chance to come off the bench and contribute more.

University of Southern Californiatransfer and sophomore outside hitter Sarah Florian came off the bench earlier in the year, but eventually moved into the starting lineup and has 3.45 kills per game – tops on the team.

“It’s never easy to sit on the bench, especially since we all work together in practice,” Florian said. “We all work just as hard.”

Florian said she watched teammates who were playing her position and asked, “What are they doing that I’m not doing?”

While the team is halfway through the Big Ten schedule, the Gophers have big games coming up this weekend against 20th-ranked Ohio State and third-ranked Penn State. Hebert said there are certain ways to put together a team to succeed.

“We’ve spent most of our time this season trying to figure out who plays in which position on the floor and next to whom,” Hebert said. “And those decisions really do determine what style you’re going to play.”

Perhaps the biggest contributor off the bench at this point of the season is freshman outside hitter Kyla Roehrig.

Roehrig is fifth on the team with 36 blocks and averages 2.38 kills per game.

“There are eight of us sitting on the bench ready for whatever comes our way,” Roehrig said.

She said part of being on the bench is recognizing what other teams are running and communicating that to the players on the floor.

“It’s a whole as a team, we’re doing everything the same,” Roehrig said. “Just the same focus on the game.”

Florian – who once sat on the bench – is now giving advice to the players still coming off the pine.

“I’d say (to bench players), ‘Just be optimistic as you can,’ and they have a lot to learn from sitting on the bench,” Florian said.

She also said having excitement for the team is key to having success from the bench.

“When you’re part of a team like this, you just get really excited for your teammates,” Florian said.

But, Hebert said he doesn’t see his bench players as just bench players.

“Which one is a starter? It depends on what rotation we start in,” Hebert said.

However, Hebert said, it’s getting late in the season to be changing lineups.

“I like the people we have starting,” Hebert said. “I just don’t know if we have them in the right positions.”

Hebert said picking a lineup and placing them in the right position is all about the team chemistry.

“It’s interesting, Hebert said, “how dynamic that is when you start picking out a lineup and putting them out on the floor.”