Aug. 9, 2013
The University of Minnesota volleyball team is set to begin its 2013 campaign after a successful 2012 Elite Eight season. As the team enters the year under second-year head coach Hugh McCutcheon, gophersports.com sat down and asked the former United States Olympic head coach five burning questions heading into the fall season. Minnesota begins the season on August 30, when it competes in the Samford/UAB Challenge in Birmingham, Ala.
Q: Minnesota has a large roster this year, something Gopher fans have not been accustomed to in a while. Talk about having that size of a group coming in.
Hugh McCutcheon: It's significant to have this many people in the gym. Generally, we are going to try and build our program with the idea of competing being one of the fundamental tenets. If you're going to have competition be something you're trying to leverage as an advantage, you have to get used to competing. This way, there will be a lot of competition in the gym and that will be a great driving force for the quality of practice and the intensity in the gym. Obviously the better we are in training, the better transfer we have into the matches.
Q: Minnesota returns quite a few starters from last year's Elite Eight team, but needs to replace First-Team All-American Katherine Harms. Who do you see potentially filling this role?
HM: Obviously there are a lot of good volleyball players in our gym and we will try and formulate the right system based on personnel and the strength of our team. We aren't going to replace Katherine Harms because there is no one like her on our roster. We will have another strategy in place. I think that's the one of the strengths within the college volleyball world is that every year you have to put a different puzzle together. It's not algorithmic and you have to make the system that best fits the players on the roster and that is exactly what we'll do.
Q: The Gopher roster has a lot of new faces this year and overall, the team is relatively young. As a coach, how nice is it to have both veteran leadership as well as a young group of student-athletes.
HM: I think it's a great thing to have that blend of youth and experience. You get the passion and enthusiasm of the young players and get the perspective and experience of the senior leadership. I think it's a balanced combination and we are excited about the possibilities.
Q: Can you give us a synopsis on each position?
HM: Outside: We have some depth in our outside hitting position, which is a nice luxury to have and we didn't have that last year. I would expect Ashley (Wittman) and Daly (Santana) to come back and fight for their starting positions. They certainly did a nice job for us last year. The one good thing about having depth is that it forces them to be more consistent and that will ultimately help us. The other nice part is that those two don't have to have the weight of the world on their shoulders. We have some players that could come in and have an impact. We've got Sarah Wilhite, who is a very nice outside hitter and Karlie Hauer, who played really well by the end of the season last year, but is still developing and evolving as a player. Kalei Mau had a great winter with us and I think that was to her advantage, spending a semester with us. I like it and we've got some talent at that position and the game is pretty much won/lost on the left side so it's great to have some depth there.
Middle: It's going to be an interesting position for us. The big question mark is where is Tori (Dixon) going to play. Obviously, she's an exceptional middle and I think she's improved significantly in the middle from last year. However, if it's better for us to put her somewhere we can set her more balls, we'd certainly like to look at that. So to that end, we've got a couple coming in that are pure middles with Clelia (De Felice) and Hannah (Tapp). We will see how they do and on top of that, Adrianna Nora can play a little middle and Paige (Tapp) can run the slide if she needs to so I think the whole middle/opposite side is going to be a blend for us. We don't know what that will end up being, but time will tell.
Setters: We're happy to have Alexandra Palmer back for her senior season. She set a really nice offense for us last year. We also have the addition of Katie (Schau). I was able to watch her this summer for the first time and was very impressed with what she was doing. We're happy that Sydney (Howard) transferred in and Karyn Israel really had a great offseason. Last year we ran a hybrid 5-1 with Palmer coming out when we were blocking and if we have to do that again this year, we can do it. But also, we have people that can battle with her to try and take that spot, which is important. It's great that everyone's going to be kept honest.
Defense: We're lucky that we have a good group coming back from last year. I think, philosophically they will have a better foundation than when I got here in August of 2012. Morgan (Bohl), Lindsey (Lawmaster) and Kalysta (White) will be fighting it out and we'll see what Brittany Jack has to offer. It's great again to have some depth in that position. I would expect the defensive intensity to be very high because we have a lot of people competing for a spot and in my opinion, it is still wide open.
Q: There are some excited fans out there that want to know how good can this team be? Talk about tempering that enthusiasm and instead getting to the end result?
HM: I like the fact that there is optimism but the reality of it is that we haven't won a game yet. I think the optimism is a great place to operate from, but I wouldn't start projecting anything. First of all, we're playing a sport and sometimes in spite of whatever you're doing, the team on the other side plays better. There's only so many things we can control and I assure you, we're going to control as much as possible. We do have some talent and we do have experience, but we don't know how the group is going to mesh together or how the culture is going to be. We have an idea of how we want it to be and we're certainly going to work towards that. But, there's way too many unknowns at this point to start talking about us being anything of significance. We're going to try and be the best that we can and hope for some good results.