Gophers Open Season This Weekend

Go Gophers!
Gopher head coach Hugh McCutcheon (left) and associate coach Laura Bush

Go Gophers!
Gopher head coach Hugh McCutcheon (left) and associate coach Laura Bush
Go Gophers!
 Minnesota (0-0) at UAB/Samford Tournament
 Matches vs. Jacksonville State (Friday, Aug. 30 / Noon)
  at UAB (Friday, Aug. 30 / 7 p.m.) - WATCH LIVE!
  vs. Georgia State (Saturday, Aug. 31 / 10 a.m.)
  at Samford (Saturday, Aug. 31 / 5 p.m.) - WATCH LIVE!
 Location Birmingham, Ala.
 Live Video Minnesota vs. UAB - Gopher All-Access
Minnesota vs. Samford - Free Video
 Live Stats vs. UAB / vs. GSU / vs. Samford
 Live Blog JSU | UAB | GSU | SAM
 Social Media  @GopherVball | Facebook

Aug 28, 2013

Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon is coming up on a full year with the Golden Gopher volleyball program. After serving as the United States Olympic coach in 2012, Hugh McCutcheon joined the Golden Gopher staff for his first official practice on August 30, 2012. Last year, McCutcheon led the Golden Gophers to a 27-8 overall record and a 15-5 mark in the Big Ten, which tied for second place. Laura Bush and Erich Hinterstocker will serve as the associate head coach and assistant coach for the 2013 season. Bush enters her sixth year with the team, while Hinterstocker is in his first year.  

Although Minnesota lost its First Team All-American and opposite hitter Katherine Harms from last season, the Golden Gophers return six potential starters from last year's squad. Minnesota returns 2012 Second Team All-American and middle blocker Tori Dixon as well as 2011 Second Team and outside hitter Ashley Wittman. Both competed nationally in different USA Volleyball forums entering their senior season. Along with Dixon and Wittman, Minnesota also returns sophomore Daly Santana, who was named to the Big Ten's All-Freshman Team and the 2012 NCAA All-Tournament Team. The Gophers welcome back it senior starting setter Alexandra Palmer. Transferring to Minnesota in 2012, Palmer recorded 1,247 assists and helped Minnesota to a .292 team hitting percentage.

The Golden Gophers had three players transfer from other Division I schools in Clelia De Felice (previously at Oregon), Sydney Howard (previously at South Dakota State) and  Adrianna Nora (previously at Baylor). Along with the transfer additions, Minnesota held the nation's third-best recruiting class, according to prepvolleyball.com. Minnesota welcomes seven freshmen, including Sarah Wilhite (ranked No. 14 in Senior Aces, Hannah Tapp and Paige Tapp are both ranked in the top 30.

The University of Minnesota volleyball program begins the 2013 season as the sixth-ranked team in the nation, announced Aug. 12 by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. The last time Minnesota held a sixth-place preseason ranking dates back to 2010 after Minnesota came off a 2009 Final Four appearance.
Defending national champion Texas leads the poll, followed by Penn State, Stanford, Southern California and Washington. Seven Big Ten Conference teams are listed in the top 25, including the Nittany Lions, the Golden Gophers, Michigan (7) and Nebraska (10) in the top 10. Michigan State (14), Purdue (16) and Ohio State (23) are also ranked, while Illinois and Wisconsin received votes.
Along with the ranked conference opponents, Minnesota will face two ranked non-conference teams. The Golden Gophers face No. 19 Louisville on Sept. 13 and No. 17 Kentucky on Sept. 14 in the Bluegrass Battle in Lexington, Ky. 

For the third-straight season, the University of Minnesota had two honorees on the Preseason All-Big Ten list in seniors Tori Dixon and Ashley Wittman. Along with Dixon and Wittman receiving preseason honors, Minnesota is predicted to finish second in the Big Ten preseason coaches' poll. Defending Big Ten champions Penn State landed the top spot and are ranked second in the 2013 AVCA Preseason poll, while Minnesota was picked second and ranked sixth in the national standings. As the top six teams were selected into the poll, the No. 3 spot went to Michigan, followed by Nebraska (4), Michigan State (5) and Illinois (6).

Dixon was just one of three unanimous selections after coming off a stellar 2012 junior season. The 6-foot, 3-inch middle blocker received 2012 Second Team All-America accolades and was a unanimous All-Big Ten selection. In her junior year, Dixon played all 126 sets and started in all 35 matches to lead the Gophers in hitting percentage (.436), blocks (133) and blocks per set, while she ranked second in kills per set (3.04) and points per set (3.90).

Wittman, a 6-foot outside hitter landed on the Preseason All-Big Ten for the third time in her four-year career. Wittman was the Golden Gophers'2012 team captain and was named an All-America and All-Big Ten honorable mention. A six-rotation player, Wittman anchored the 2012 Gopher defense when she led the team with 350 digs to average 2.8 per set. Posting over 1,000 career kills, Wittman was a 2011 All-American and unanimous All-Big Ten selection her sophomore year when she led the team in kills (566), kps (4.48) and points (607).

Minnesota has only played two of its four opponents competing at the UAB/Samford Challenge. Minnesota has played Jacksonville State once (1-0) and holds a 0-1 mark against host UAB. The Golden Gophers Saturday's competition marks the first ever matches contested against Samford and Georgia State.

Setter Alexandra Palmer returns for her senior season. As a junior and her first year in the Big Ten, Palmer helped Minnesota to a .292 hitting percentage. As Minnesota led the Big Ten last year in assists (1707 and 13.55 per set), Palmer had 1,247 assists last year. In conference games alone, Palmer jumped to No. 2 in assists at 11.30 assists per set. in 2012, Minnesota hit over .300 in 17 matches and six over .400. Along with her set up ability, Palmer had 226 digs and 18 aces.

Minnesota produced 199 service aces last year, led primarily by Daly Santana. In her 126 sets played, Santana provided a team-high 56 aces as a rookie last year. Minnesota's numbers over the last three years has steadily improved in that category. The Gophers had 108 in 2010, 141 in 2011 and 199 in 2012. The last time Minnesota had close to 200 aces in a season dated back to 2006 with 202.

The Golden Gophers open the home season, Sept. 6-7, hosting Ball State, Duke and Western Illinois as a part of the Diet Coke Classic. Minnesota takes on Ball State in its home opener on Sept. 6 at 7:30 p.m. The Golden Gophers then compete against Western Illinois on Saturday at 1 p.m., followed by Duke at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 7.