May 1, 2014
As the 2014 spring volleyball winds down and the semester ends, gophersports.com sat down with head volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon. In this brief "Catching Up with Coach" article, McCutcheon talks about spring volleyball, newcomers and the upcoming coaching clinic.
Gophersports.com: Minnesota obviously lost a few talented people from last year and now you're working with a young group. How important was it to get back in to the gym and start working to improve?
Hugh McCutcheon: It is always important, but this year especially so because of the strong group of freshman that we had last season. Having the opportunity to work with them and develop their fundamentals was really good. They came into the gym, worked hard and made improvements.
GS: From the start of the spring season to now, how would you assess the team and where they are at?
HM: There have been lots of changes across the board, not just technically and tactically, but our culture is shifting into a really positive direction. It's been quite a rewarding spring and I think it's been challenging for everyone. The process of change is always tough, but we've come out the other side with a much clearer idea of who we are and what we want to be about. There has been a lot of improvement in our fundamental skill set. I think we are executing at a better level. As we go through the summer, the student-athletes will obviously have to bear the responsibility of their efforts until we get to August. We will be able to put some systems in place and be able to do some things that we weren't able to do last year. Clearly we will be lacking some strength and size, losing Tori (Dixon) and Ashley (Wittman) and of course Palmy (Alexandra Palmer). That's a big loss, but hopefully not insurmountable.
GS: You mention losing a setter in Palmer, but you also gained a setter in the offseason in Erica Handley. How has she been able to come into this new system?
Erica has been a great addition for our program; she adds a little more height and is left handed. She obviously knows how to compete. I think she's been great. She and Katie Schau
are working very well together. They compete every day, but are also helping each other out. I think finding that kind of synergy within that position to be a really positive thing for them both.
GS: You also added an assistant coach in Matt Houk. How has he been able to come in here and work with this team?
HM: Matt has been a wonderful addition to our staff. He's obviously got a lot of experience with being a head coach for the last six years. Philosophically the coaching staff is very strongly aligned. We are not the same, but principally aligned. We get into good discussions about how we need to continue moving forward and I value those debates. Matt is also really good in the gym, a great teacher, understands the game, so he can coach it as well. We feel very fortunate to have Matt with us.
GS: We had a few individuals make it onto one of the USA Volleyball Collegiate National Teams. How can this help Adrianna Nora, Paige Tapp and Hannah Tapp and what can it bring back to their Minnesota game?
HM: I think for all of them it's a chance to play with and against some of the best people within their age groups. It's always good to have a chance to play up and I would hope they would feel more validated in terms of their own abilities. I'm sure they will learn some about how the game is played at different levels by different countries. Even if it's just being a part of the program here in conjunction with Nationals I think the idea of playing with a group of your peers at a high level can only help. I imagine they will get better at playing, but hopefully it will expand their individual awareness of what their possibilities are in this game.
GS: You're hosting a coaching clinic here on Saturday, something you haven't done before. What can people expect at the Sports Pavilion?
HM: The point of the clinic was to reach out to the community and volleyball is such a popular sport in this state. Because it's such an important sport in this area, we just thought it would be a nice way to connect and share some of the things we are doing philosophically. We're going to talk about some of the technical concepts we have for a few of the fundamental skills. We really want to open it up to some question and answers about our systems or any of the things we are doing. The hope is to provoke some thought and if we can help anyone along the way, that would be great. If the sport gets stronger in the state, we are all going to benefit from that. We are trying to see if we can add any value there.