Minnesota will head to the Bluejay Invitational on Aug. 29-30 to open the 2008 season. The Golden Gophers will face host Creighton on Friday, Aug. 29 at 6 p.m. Minnesota will also face Texas A&M on Saturday, Aug. 30 at 12 p.m. and No. 21 LSU at 5:30 p.m. the same day. The Golden Gophers, Tigers and Aggies will be playing in the same season opening tournament for the second time in three years. In 2006, Minnesota went 1-2 at the Billiken Invitational in a tournament that included LSU, St. Louis and Texas A&M. Last year, Creighton finished 21-10 overall last year, and was picked to finish third in the Missouri Valley in the Preseason Coaches poll. Texas A&M also went 21-10 in 2007 and received 55 points in the preseason top 25. LSU enters the year ranked No. 21, and finished 25-8 in 2007 on the way to an appearance in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Minnesota enters the season ranked No. 16 in the preseason top 25, is coming off its ninth straight NCAA Tournament appearances and was 18-13 in 2007.
Minnesota has four seniors as part of this year’s team. Setter Rachel Hartmann, outside hitter Kyla Roehrig, middle blocker Kelly Schmidt and outside hitter Katie Vatterrodt make up the core of a group of players that came in as the No. 4 recruiting class in the nation. That group helped Minnesota advance to the NCAA Regional Finals in 2006. The 2006 team, also featured a senior class that had four players as well. That seniors class was made up of Kelly Bowman, Meghan Cumpston, Meredith Nelson and Malama Peniata. Minnesota has only had four or more seniors heading into a season three times since 2002, including this year. The other years were 2006, and 2004 when the Golden Gophers had six seniors (Jen Bowman, Trisha Bratford, Amanda Hokenson, Erin Martin, Lisa Reinhart and Lindsey Taatjes). Roehrig enters the season 59 kills short of 1,000 for her career, and is seventh on the Minnesota career list in block solos. Hartmann is sixth on the Golden Gophers’ career assists list at 3,590, while Schmidt is this year’s team captain. Vatterrodt has also been in the mix at outside hitter in each of her three seasons at Minnesota.
The Golden Gophers welcome five new players to the team this season. Minnesota added the No. 12 ranked recruiting class in the nation. That group included four freshman in setter Alex Blatt, middle blocker Ariana Filho, defensive specialist/libero Jessica Granquist and defensive specialist/libero Ashley Suapaia. Blatt and Filho were the No. 22 and 24 incoming high school seniors in the nation according to prepvolleyball.com, while Granquist was No. 100 on that list. Suapaia was named First-Team All-State as a senior. Minnesota also added two-time NJCAA All-American Pamela Luiz to the roster. Luiz is junior outside hitter from Limeira, Brazil.
Minnesota is 9-3 in season openers under current head coach Mike Hebert. The Golden Gophers have won four season openers in a row dating back to the 2004 season. Last year, Minnesota won at Notre Dame in three games to open the season. The Golden Gophers have also won at St. Louis (2006), at home against North Dakota State (2005), at No. 11 Colorado State (2004), at home against No. 8 Pepperdine (2002), against Kent State (2000), at St. Mary’s (Calif.) (1999), at home against Wisconsin-Green Bay (1998) and a in a neutral-site matchup against TCU (1997). The Golden Gophers’ three season-opening losses under Hebert came in 1996 at No. 10 San Diego State, against No. 10 Stanford in a neutral-site match in 2001 and at No. 2 Hawai’i in 2003.
Kyla Roehrig will make her second trip back to Nebraska during her career at Minnesota. Roehrig first trip came in 2006 when the Golden Gophers played in the Ameritas Players Challenge. In that tournament, Roehrig had 3.92 kpg and was named to the All-Tournament team. Roehrig has played homestate teams four times since she has been at Minnesota. Those matchups have featured three meetings against Nebraska and one against Creighton. Roehrig has averaged 3.94 kills per game in the four meetings against teams from Nebraska. One of her finest performances came when she hit .485 with 19 kills against No. 1 Nebraska during the Ameritas Players Challenge.