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“The Watchers” is a film adaptation of the 2022 book of the same name by A.M. Shine.
Review: “The Watchers”
Published June 13, 2024

Analysis: Collective over individual, philosophies must change for Gophers volleyball

Keegan Cook finished non-conference matchups with an even 4-4 record at the end of his first preseason stint as the Gophers head coach.
Image by Alex Karwowski
The Gophers play against the High Point Panthers on Sept. 14, 2023 at the first day and match of the Diet Coke Classic.

The Gophers volleyball team has their work cut out for them. Between balancing a new coaching staff, three transfers and two true freshmen, the target of the national championship title is proving itself to be a tough goal.

Minnesota concluded their preseason splitting their matchups in the Diet Coke Classic. The team defeated the High Point Panthers on Thursday before falling to the No. 14 ranked Creighton Bluejays on Saturday.

“You’ve got to get a group of diverse people and then you’ve got to get them to come together to see things the same and respond the same,” head coach Keegan Cook said about the challenges of coaching.

There is no denying players have shown individual moments of success. Outside hitter Mckenna Wucherer is averaging 3.38 kills per set, compared to her average of 2.73 last season. Outside hitter Lydia Grote had a season-high 20 kills and 13 digs against Creighton and made the Diet Coke Classic All-Tournament team along with Wucherer.

Even with these individual successes, Cook said he has yet to figure out how to address adversity as a group. The ramifications of this oversight have reflected game results and, sequentially, their national ranking.

Since the start of the season, the Gophers dropped from the No. 5 ranking to No. 12. Much of this can be attributed to their performance against six ranked teams where they were out-assisted 262-301, and lost four matchups (Texas, Florida, Stanford and Creighton).

“If you’ve got some really simple, really understood values, then all the behaviors flow from there,” Cook said. “What I’m seeing most, when adversity hits, is players going to their individual strengths and responses.”

Cook added the team can not be “conditionally committed” in any matchup. He believes in the character of each athlete but also thinks certain team-oriented aspects need to be put into practice.

“The way we handle [the loss to Creighton] should reflect and build upon the value that we’re not going to be conditional,” Cook said in a press release. “We can control our responses, which is something we need to do both during the match and after the match.”

With much of the season still ahead, the Gophers have time to cohere, but the road ahead will be grueling. The Gophers begin conference play on Thursday in Iowa City, Iowa against the Hawkeyes, before finishing the weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska, against the No. 2 ranked Cornhuskers.

To hold their own, the Gophers will need to start utilizing the tools they have at their disposal to stay competitive.

With a season of collegiate play under Wucherer’s belt and experience playing for Team USA, she believes the opportunity with both programs helped her improve as a teammate.

“I’ve grown into a better passer and a better serve receiver, and better server,” Wucherer said over the summer. “My goal is to stay in there all the time and to help my team in any way possible.”

Fifth-year libero Kylie Murr was optimistic heading into the out-of-conference matchups. Before the season began, she mentioned the learning opportunities that come with facing a higher level of competition.

“We’re going to see this in the Big Ten,” Murr said. “If we were playing teams we could just roll over right now, we wouldn’t be learning as much about ourselves.”

Aside from the Gophers, five Big Ten teams are currently ranked among the top 25. However, if Minnesota wants to jump back to the top 10, they need to start responding to adversity as one.

“Trying to see everything through the same lens is something we’re trying to get on board with,” Murr said. “I think with more time and more work we’re going to start seeing it through the same lens.”

The Gophers know what they need to do to break their slump. Now, it’s just a matter of applying that principle on the court as conference play begins and the road to the national championship intensifies.

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