Vander Well expected to set tone for spikers next season with natural talents

by Brian Hall

Every season Minnesota volleyball volunteer assistant coach Dennis Amundson brands each player with a nickname.

In the case of freshman Lindsey Vander Well, or “Hobbs” as she’s called, the inspiration came from the movie “The Natural” and lead character Roy Hobbs, played by Robert Redford.

Amundson and the Gophers coaching staff knew what Minnesota’s players would soon find out-Vander Well is a natural.

“I have never had a setter like her,” outside hitter Erin Martin said. “She has great hands. Hobbs is always in the right place and she puts the ball right where it needs to be. She goes out and gets the job done.”

The Gophers finished their season with an emotional five-game loss to Northern Iowa last Saturday. The NCAA second round match marked the final time seniors Lindsey Berg, Stephanie Hagen and Kathy Tilson will wear the Maroon and Gold.

Meanwhile, Vander Well has been groomed all season to replace Berg as Minnesota’s setter and the leader of its offense.

“It is her team now,” Gophers coach Mike Hebert said. “We told her on the bus coming back from Northern Iowa, ‘It’s been your team for about two hours. What are you going to do about it?'”

Hebert hopes Vander Well naturally continues the tradition of Minnesota setters.

Gopher players held the top two spots on the Big Ten career assists list with Berg finishing her tenure in third.

Vander Well played in place of an injured Berg on Oct. 27 at Indiana, collecting 60 assists in her first conference start to help Minnesota pull out a win versus the Hoosiers.

Three starters return next season, including sophomore Bethany Brafford, who suffered a broken foot during the match against the Panthers, yet continued to play.

Vander Well will be a key to the Gophers offense, but the production should be aided by the experience received by Minnesota’s returning hitters.

“It will be an easy transition,” Berg said. “Everybody plays well off of her. She just needs the experience in the games to grow as a setter and build her skills. She is going to be great and the team really respects her.”

Added Hebert, “Some people have natural instincts as athletes to react and she is one of them. She seems to glide to the ball. Hobbs has great eye-hand coordination and combines that with great athletic ability.”

The team struggled passing the ball all season and the situation must improve if Minnesota hopes to contend next season.

“We must pass the ball better,” Hebert said. “Three things have to improve: passing, defending and counter-attacking. Passing will be a big key to the season.”

Three athletes have signed National Letters of Intent to play next season at the University – Jessica Byrnes, Paula Gentil, and Athena Mallakis.

The key to the class is Gentil, who hails from Brazil. She is a 5-foot-9 defensive specialist/setter from Lake Highland Prep School in Orlando, Fla.

“Paula Gentil will be an impact player,” Hebert said. “She has been around the game of volleyball for a long time and has at least as much volleyball intelligence as Berg. She will be a fan favorite.”

Byrnes is a 6-foot-2 middle hitter from Minnetonka High School in the mold of Hagen. Mallakis is a 6-foot-1 middle blocker/outside hitter from California.

Meanwhile, Hagen and Berg will each try out for the U.S. national team next week. Berg is also waiting to hear word from the United States Professional Volleyball League.

The league, which begins its first season in February, is comprised of four teams. Former Minnesota standout Nicole Branagh recently signed to play with the Minnesota Chill of the USPV.