Minnesota’s back row reminding Hebert of the “three amigos”

Once upon a time âÄî specifically in 2003 and 2004 âÄî there was a group of Minnesota volleyball players that went by the name the âÄúthree amigos.âÄù Comprised of defensive whizzes Lisa Reinhart, Malama Peniata and Paula Gentil , the trio solidified the GophersâÄô back row for two seasons. And with the help of a strong defensive presence, the Gophers made back-to-back trips to the Final Four, with 2004 leading to the national championship match. Jump ahead to this year. Minnesota is again one of the top teams in the nation and, along with junior libero Christine TanâÄôs expertise and leadership in the back row, the Gophers have two other defensive specialists that have established the Minnesota defense as the third-stingiest in the Big Ten. Sophomore Hailey Cowles and freshman Jessica Granquist cover these right-back and middle-back positions, and their athleticism and poise has helped hold opposing teams to a .185 hit percentage this year. âÄúThe similarities are uncanny between the three amigos and the group weâÄôre looking at right now,âÄù coach Mike Hebert said. Cowles came in as a freshman and contributed right away last year, just as Tan had done the year before. This season, she has found an identity for herself; not only playing her position well defensively, but adding an offensive spark as well, hitting out of the back row, and incorporating a jump serve into her game. âÄúThis year is more about me just playing and not worrying so much about being perfect all the time,âÄù Cowles said. âÄúIâÄôve had a chance to go back to being the player IâÄôve been throughout my entire career, and itâÄôs helped me a lot, and itâÄôs helped the team.âÄù Granquist also came in with a large freshmen class, but was the only one to make an immediate impact on the court. With plenty of talent coming out of club volleyball, Granquist started the season off in the back row, and then sat out a few matches after a brief struggle, only to fight her way back into the rotation and earn a spot sheâÄôs not likely to lose. âÄúNow I understand what I need to do to play at this level,âÄù Granquist said. âÄúThe biggest difference between club and college is the speed that the ball is hit at, so I had to get used to that.âÄù She seems to have done that, collecting 39 digs in the past three matches and making perfect passes as well âÄî just like Cowles and Tan are doing. And as a coach whose program revolves around defensive play, Hebert couldnâÄôt be happier. âÄúBall control is the most fundamental building block that a team can put in place,âÄù he said. âÄúAnd these three not only have ball control, but they have great volleyball IQâÄôs. They can read the play, break things down, theyâÄôre very positive on the court. They remind me of the three amigos.âÄù And while Hebert wouldnâÄôt make a prediction about where this team could end up under the guide of this back row, he did admit that it does put the team in good shape. âÄúThose three give us a really good start on ball control, and if our hitters get hot at the right time, I think we could go deep into the tournament.âÄù Without a doubt, the trio can play at a very high level. Now they just need a name for themselves. âÄúThe three musketeers?âÄù Granquist offered up. âÄúI have no idea.âÄù Maybe itâÄôs a good thing they still have one more year together to think it through.