Aug. 7, 2012
As the 2012 Golden Gopher volleyball season gears up, gophersports.com sat down with interim head coach Laura Bush to discuss the upcoming season. Holding the interim title under current United States head coach Hugh McCutcheon arrives after the 2012 Olympics, Bush talks about the upcoming season, the schedule and her term at the helm of the program. The Gophers kick off practice on Wed., August 8th, while their first match is on the road at the James Madison Tournament, Aug. 25th.
Gophersports.com: Last year Minnesota went to the Sweet 16. How can the Gopher program build off of last year's success and translate it to 2012?
Laura Bush: We ended a few rounds earlier than any of us would have liked. We learn; we work; we move forward with the intent to win as many matches as possible. Fortunately, we have returners who have significant playing time and we have a fresh crew of newcomers to build onto all of the successful years at Minnesota
GS: All-Americans Tori Dixon and Ashley Wittman are back for their junior seasons. Talk about what you've seen from them in the off season and heading into the year.
GS: Tori played with the A2 program. How can that experience translate back to Minnesota?
LB: They have matured as players, as leaders, as students, and as people. Tori's experience with the USA A2 program was very positive and incredibly successful. She continues to set a high bar for herself; I like how she is carrying herself. Ashley has led the team throughout the summer training block. Her confidence, her desire, her work ethic are to be expected. In my mind, they each exhibit the natural maturing progression of owning a role as an upperclassmen. They have claimed a stake in the success of the team.
She brings back a phenomenal, competitive volleyball experience. I was fortunate to be able to watch her compete a few times while she was on the A2 team; she was extremely effective.
GS: How did Katherine Harms' experience by playing in China transpire?
LB: Katherine took the opportunity to compete over the summer months with a company that works closely with USA Volleyball. She was with a talented group and had to play against good competition. If I had to make an assumption, it was an overall good learning and competitive experience for her.
GS: Alexandra Palmer and Dana Knudsen transferred from Santa Clara. In your opinion, how have they been able to transition to Minnesota's system as well as the school in general?
LB: When I have spoken with each of them, they're both extremely enthusiastic about being at Minnesota and wearing maroon and gold. In a couple of days we will get to see the group all together and see how the pieces fit together.
GS: A spot that needs to be filled will be at libero. Who is in the running for the starting spot?
LB: I think everyone on the team knows that this position should have a lot of competition for it and can be filled by a player who has not be slated as a defensive specialist or libero. Like all the roles on the team, the position will be earned in practice and in consistent performance. It is currently a wide open race.
GS: You've got some depth to work with at setter. Talk about that depth and what they can bring to this team?
LB: We are fortunate to have three setters on the team (Mia Tabberson, Alexandra Palmer, Karyn Israel). Depth is good and competition is good. We will continue to evaluate each setter throughout the season.
GS: Hugh McCutcheon will arrive in Minnesota once his Olympic commitment is complete. What can the team/fans expect from him and the coaching staff once he is here?
LB: Hugh is a great communicator about vision, expectations, and strategy. He is also consistent on expressing how personal responsibility enhances the person, each other and the team. Occasionally, he can be sarcastic and have a sense of humor. So what can the team expect? The team can expect a very organized, thorough, honest, and up front person.
GS: The schedule looks competitive both in the Big Ten and in non-conference play. Can you talk about the upcoming schedule?
LB: It became more and more competitive as the schedules were finalized with tournament additions and subtractions and tournament scheduling. We had few surprises in how we got scheduled into a tournament. Being able to play well on the road is going to be important. We will find out early how to play well on the road in competitive environments. It is good for us and gives an opportunity to quickly learn, apply and grow. It is a solid schedule and should prepare us for the Big Ten season and post season.
GS: Where do you see the Big Ten in the national realm this year?
LB: Is it the toughest? Quite possibly it is. Is it at least in the top two toughest conferences? Yes. Each team has scheduled well and each team is challenging itself to prepare for the conference season. I think we can see the same heavy hitters from conference have the potential to battle to the end.
GS: You're interim head coach title is coming to a close. Looking back, what were some of the rewards/challenges you faced during that time?
LB: I love the University of Minnesota and I care deeply about the success of this program and all the people around the program. I really fell in love with this place when I first arrived back in January of 2008 under Mike Hebert. The challenges are the challenges and each job has them. I am very thankful that I get to stay on with this team, with the staff and with the University and usher in a new chapter of Golden Gopher Volleyball.