Spring tournament offers glimpse of fall

Minnesota won five of six sets played Saturday at the Sports Pavilion.

by Charlie Armitz

Spring volleyball season is a time for trying new things.

With a depleted roster, an interim head coach and only one tournament scheduled for the spring, the Gophers’ options were limited in this regard during Saturday’s tournament at the Sports Pavilion. Yet they managed to pull out a few tricks, winning five of six sets against local Division I teams.

Minnesota won two sets and lost none against Northern Iowa and South Dakota State, and it split a pair of sets against North Dakota State.

The Gophers experimented with a 6-2 offense — a setup in which two setters play at once. Mia Tabberson and Kellie McNeil, who split time as the team’s lone setter last season, played together for stretches Saturday.

Neither setter is a natural hitter, but both had swings in the front row — a few of which led to kills.

Stud outside hitters Ashley Wittman and Katherine Harms played well, finishing with 30 and 28 kills, respectively. Both finished the 2011 season strong and will likely play a major role in the Gophers’ 2012 campaign.

Only one new Minnesota player — transfer outside hitter Kara Lindstedt — saw court time.

Seven more additions, including freshmen Karlie Hauer (Andover, Minn.) and Lindsey Lawmaster (Los Alamitos, Calif.), will join the team in the fall.

Minnesota announced the addition of the other five players, including two transfers, last Thursday.

With only about half of its fall roster present Saturday, Minnesota played with no true defensive specialist. Defense has been a strength for the Gophers in recent years, but in 2012, it will likely be a weakness, as the team’s only defensive specialists will be newcomers.

Freshman outside hitter Morgan Bohl, who missed all of last season with a left knee injury, took on defensive responsibilities and picked up 13 digs while showing slightly limited mobility.

Tori Dixon, the team’s only returning middle blocker, took on passing responsibilities while hitting efficiently in limited offensive action.

Many questions surround the Gophers’ 2012 squad, but one reassurance is the addition of head coach Hugh McCutcheon.

McCutcheon will join the Gophers in September after he completes his stint with the 2012 U.S. women’s Olympic volleyball team. In 2008, he won a gold medal coaching the men’s Olympic team.

Interim head coach Laura Bush, who led the team to a Sweet 16 appearance last season, is expected to continue leading the team into the start of next season before returning to her assistant coaching duties behind McCutcheon.

Sooter, Daugaard depart

The Gophers played without two members of their 2011 squad Saturday — Steffi Sooter and Juliane Daugaard.

Both players are no longer with the team and will not return in the fall, a team spokesperson said.

A Santa Cruz, Calif., native, Sooter tallied 350 digs in her two-year Gophers career as a defensive specialist.

As of April 15, no announcements have been made regarding a possible transfer destination for Sooter, although the team spokesperson confirmed that Sooter left the University of Minnesota prior to the spring semester.

She was expected to be the frontrunner for the libero position in 2012. Now, that role likely falls into the hands of Lawmaster.

Daugaard came from Denmark and joined Minnesota as a partial qualifier last season, meaning she could practice with the team but could not compete or travel.