Aug. 24, 2011
AVCA Showcase Notes
The University of Minnesota opens the 2011 season at the American Volleyball Coaches Association Showcase, August 26-27 in State College, Pa. The Golden Gophers open its season against No. 2 Southern California Friday night, while facing Oregon Saturday, August 27. The tournament will mark the first of four non-conference tournaments this season. Both matches will be televised live on the Big Ten Network this weekend.
The last time the Golden Gophers played in the AVCA Showcase dates back to 2009 when Minnesota faced Kansas State and Nebraska in Omaha, Neb. The Gophers opened the season with a win over Kansas State in five sets, while dropping its first match to Nebraska in five sets the following day. Prior to the AVCA Showcase, Minnesota played Colorado State and USC in the NACWAA Classic in 2004, where Minnesota defeated host school Colorado State in four, while it fell to USC in five.
The 2011 season also marks a new change in Gopher volleyball. For the first time in 16 years, a new head coach will be on the leading the Gopher bench as Laura Bush will serve as the interim head coach this season. Bush serves as the interim until Hugh McCutcheon arrives following the 2012 Summer Olympics. Legendary Gopher coach Mike Hebert retired following the 2010 campaign. The change in coaching, however, hasn't slowed down the Gophers and Minnesota's goals at the end of the season.
"What I told the team from the beginning is that we're going to have a lot of work to do," Bush said. "It's going to be an everyday process and an everyday goal and we begin it with an end in mind. We have four very tough opening matches, we know that. We will have several tough matches in the Big Ten, we know that. But, we have a goal of what we want to achieve by the end of the season, which is one to be healthy and at our best and two to be home for the 2011 NCAA Regional that we're hosting in December."
The AVCA Showcase also marks a return of senior outside hitter Hailey Cowles. Suffering an ACL injury at the beginning of the 2010 season, Cowles is set to return to the outside hitter position. Her last competition was in the 2009 Final Four, where she was named to the all-tournament team. Cowles had played in 101 of Minnesota's 102 matches during her three-year career with the Golden Gophers at either outside hitter or defensive specialist. In 2009, she averaged 2.71 dps, 1.46 kps, led the team with 0.24 saps and became the fourth Minnesota player to receive Final Four All-Tournament honors. However, Cowles is back to being healthy and is ready to compete in her final year.
"Last year was a very difficult time in my career," Cowles said. "I have never been hurt until I tore my ACL and having to deal with surgery and rehab, along with not playing volleyball for months on end was very new to me. I have never taken more than a month off from volleyball since I was probably 12. I did, however, try to take the positives out of the situation. I learned how to become a better teammate and how to lead off the court. I took it as a time to learn and grow as a person."
Cowles and the rest of the Golden Gophers will have a tough schedule from the get go. Minnesota plays USC, which received the No. 2 ranking in the AVCA Preseason poll. Minnesota's next opponent, Oregon is receiving votes in the same poll. After holding its first meeting in 1979, Minnesota and USC have only met up five times (AVCA this weekend being the sixth) in school history. Minnesota and USC have gone 2-2-1 against each other in the all-time series. Of the five previous meetings, the two teams met twice in 2004. Minnesota faced USC in the NACWAA Classic and again in the NCAA postseason. Minnesota fell to USC in five sets in the preseason tournament. However, the Gophers battled back and defeated Southern Cal in the 2004 Final Four to advance to the national championship game. Minnesota and Oregon have only faced each other four times, dating back to 1988 and are 2-2 all time. The last time the two teams competed against each other was on Sept. 18, 2009 at the Pioneer Classic, hosted by University of Denver. The Gophers lost to the Ducks when they fell in five sets.
Minnesota's probable starters this weekend include setter Mia Tabberson (10.84 aps in 2010), middle blockers Tori Dixon (Preseason All-Big Ten) and Ariana Filho (.303 hitting percentage and 0.92 blps in 2010), libero Jessica Granquist (2010 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year) and outside hitters Cowles (2.71 dps, 1.46 kps in 2009), Ashley Wittman (Preseason All-Big Ten) and Katherine Harms (1.72 kps, 1.48 dps, 0.57 blps in 2010).
The non-conference schedule doesn't get any easier as the Golden Gophers host Texas, Sept. 2-3 at the Sports Pavilion in the Diet Coke Classic. Both matches can be watched live with Gopher All-Access, while free audio will also be available by clicking the link in the volleyball schedule.