The Minnesota volleyball program held their 2007 media day on Tuesday, Aug. 14. The following quotes are from head coach Mike Hebert’s session with the media:
“In our first week, I am very pleased with how we have practiced. We continue to raise the bar in terms of the goals we have for the program, and I think our newcomers and returning players have done a good job of preparing for this season and being ready to go from the start.
In terms of returning players Rachel Hartmann is our returning center. Some of the surprises include the maturity of the incoming freshman class. There are three players in that freshman class who probably will see significant playing time and maybe even start. At the top of the list, is a player named Lauren Gibbemeyer. Lauren is already a polished player and could well be the best middle blocker to ever play at Minnesota by the time her career is over. That is how much I think of her ability. Next to her is a player named Brook Dieter. Brooke is an outside hitter, who is absolutely one of best athletes we have had at Minnesota. She has a terrific skill level, and I will be really surprised if she doesn’t earn a starting assignment. The third player is Hailey Cowles. She was the Metro and State Player of the year last year. Hailey will probably be playing mostly defense, serving and passing for us in the back row. She is a candidate for the libero position, and if she doesn’t win that position she will be seeing a lot of time in the back row as a defensive specialist.
Talent-wise this probably the deepest collection of talent we have ever had here in my 12 years. I am going to be able to look down the bench and find somebody who is a real good player who can go in and spell somebody. In the past, we really haven’t had that luxury. At this stage of my career, I am not just interested in winning, I am interested in championships and we are pushing our team really hard mentally to get in that frame of mind.
I think in the past we have been very good. Not a lot of teams can say that they have been in three of the past four regional finals and we have established ourselves as an elite program. However there is one more step to take, and that is to try to compete for a national championship. Although we made it to the final match in 2004, we are still just that one brick shy of a load. The reason for that is we just need to be one level tougher on the mental scale, and that is what this pre-season camp has been about. We have been learning how to compete, learning how to be extraordinary and not just ordinary. I am very pleased with the progress of the team at this point. We could play tomorrow and I think we could do a great job. So a lot of things are pointing in the right direction for us. I think everybody is pulling the same end of the rope and we are looking forward to our first contest against Notre Dame.”
Questions from the media:
How do you prepare the team physically and mentally to get to that Championship mind frame?
“That is a good question, and a long answer. Physically you have to keep people out of their comfort zone. If you just go out and do what you always do, you are not getting any better. So we have to keep pushing them beyond what they are capable of on the physical side. On the mental side, it is actually the same thing. We have done a lot of mental preparation. We have put together some clips of different movies we had them watch and discuss afterwards. We have gone through what that scene might have said to them, and as we go through the season we will be able to refer back in a time out or in a team meeting. We will be able to ask you remember when this occurred in this particular movie, this is what they were after, this is what we want you to take from that and most of the selections we have put together are about mental toughness, being special, being extraordinary.”
Can you talk about contributions Kelly Roysland will give you coming over from the women’s basketball team?
“Kelly Roysland was the state player of the year as a senior in volleyball in 2002. She chose to play basketball here. I have known Kelly since she was a freshman and I have been a big Kelly Roysland fan for her entire basketball career. She came to my office and said she might want to play volleyball, and I said terrific. She is not really tall enough to be a major force at the net, but she is such a great athlete and such a great competitor. She is going to find a way to keep the ball in play and get us a point any way she can. However, the most significant thing about Kelly is the quality she possess inside just inspires everybody around her to play better. This past spring when she played with us we needed a lift, and she came into a match against Iowa State and single-handedly lifted our team to a win. This was not because of her tremendous size or speed or anything tangible, but mentally she has a firm grip on wanting to win and that is infectious. She will see considerable playing time for us either as a defensive-specialist or maybe occasionally as an outside hitter. Kelly has that special gift. She is a winner. She is diligent, persistent, you can use all off the words you can think of when it comes to clichs that deal with winning. She has the full package.”
Is it easier to recruit with all of the recent success your program has had?
“I think the answer is clearly yes. By the same token the three players that we got that I have spoke about, they are all local kids. I think we have been successful enough that the local players want to come to the University of Minnesota. The in-state players want to play for our program. That was not necessarily always the case when I first got here. When we do have a great player locally, there is a very solid chance we will be their first choice. We got really luck with these three coming up at the same time, so I guess my answer to your question is yes it absolutely makes a difference.
Talk about the middle blocker position and who you expect to start along side Jessy Jones?
“Right now, Lauren (Gibbemeyer) is in a battle with Kelly Schmidt and the two of them play a different kind of game. Kelly is more of a reliable player who knows the system. There is nothing that she hasn’t been exposed to at this point, so she has that going for her. If she gets into a Big Ten match, she is not going to be freaked out by anything that happens. Lauren has the athletic ability and the fire power, and has an upside that is beyond anybody else on our team as a middle blocker. How soon will Lauren eclipse what Kelly Schmidt does is hard to say right now. However, if I had to start a team today, I would probably start Kelly because of the experience factor, but with a real close eye on Lauren.”
Do you need to get off to a fast start to the season?
“Is the key to that season a fast start? Our goals are very lofty. We want to win championships. We also want to qualify as a first round host in the NCAA Tournament, and that includes making the tournament. To make the tournament we have a very difficult pre-conference schedule. Notre Dame, Stanford, San Diego and California, these are all teams that are going to be ranked in the top 25. We need to get off to a quick start, because that is going to determine our final ranking heading into the NCAA Tournament, and to host the first round you have to be in the top 16. So I would say the answer is yes.”
Where is the chemistry at with this team?
“Right now I give the team an A- for chemistry. This is a very solid group. The only reason I give an A- because is because it is hard to give an A to anything at this point in our training. We have been together six days, so it is hard to predict for the season. However, this group is getting accomplished some things on the floor that no other group here has so far in terms of chemistry. By chemistry I am talking about the fit.
The famous line from coach Herb Brooks in the movie “Miracle” is, “I am not looking for the best athletes but for the right athletes”, the right players. The fit has to be just perfect if you want to win it at the top level. These players are understanding that some have to be major studs, some have to be stabilizing type players and some have to be winners. There are a lot of fits that have to go on to make a team, to prepare a team and to be capable at the top level. This team is doing a great job of that right know. That’s my reference to chemistry. And that’s what they are doing well.”
Are the freshman’s expectations set as high as yours and how do you balance that?
“I just don’t have time to worry about expectations. You are either in or you are out and they have already declared that they are in. These are kids that have won National Championships at their age group level. At the 16-1s Junior Nationals they finished second in the nation, at the 17-1s they finished first and last year Brooke broke her hand in the semifinals and it caused them to finish third in the National Championship. These are kids that have been around the championship level their entire careers, so talking in that language here it doesn’t bother them at all, they are on board.”
Talk about the fact that the three Minnesota freshmen played together on the same club team. Does that help them be better as a group coming in?
“That was a big part of the recruiting process. We had to make sure from the coaches in that club, the Northern Lights Volleyball Club in Burnsville where they played, that these three could get along. They have been together for three or four years already and now have four more years of college. That is a long time to expect people to tolerate each other. However, that got cleared up right away. They all like each other. The fact that they have played together really does give them a head start.”
Talk about a player to watch that might surprise us?
“We had to have a backup setter for Rachael Hartmann, who was the only returning setter in 2008. We had to find a backup good enough, and that is hard to do because if that player is good then someone else is going to recruit her as a starting setter. We picked up a player named Caitlin Schneider from the Chicago area and she has really surprised people with how good she really is. We are not going to miss a lot if she is on the court. I would say that she is one on the bigger surprises. Christine Tan was terrific last year and is even more amazing this year. She is winning the libero position hands down. Christine is the kid from Florida that not everybody recruited because she was too small. However, she has been nothing short of sensational in practice. There has also been a lot of improvement from Katie Vatterrodt, one of our outside hitters. I think everybody has gotten better; it has been a good off season.”