Minnesota Volleyball Magazine sat down with junior libero Christine Tan to talk about her career and how she ended up at Minnesota. Tan is in her second season as the Golden Gophers’ primary libero. She enters the weekend just 69 digs away from becoming the 14th Golden Gopher to record 1,000 digs in a career.
Minnesota Volleyball Magazine: What was the recruiting process like for you, and how did you end up at Minnesota?
Christine Tan: “My visit to Minnesota was a last minute one. I was about to commit to another school on the East Coast, and my parents told me Minnesota was looking at me. I knew it was a great school, I knew about the history and I knew all the great recent performances of defensive players like Marci (Peniata) and Paula (Gentil). I went to visit, and fell in love the school when I came here. I was not really sure how it would work out financially, but I was lucky enough to get an academic scholarship initially. Eventually I got offered an athletic scholarship. However, when I made my ultimate decision to come here it really came down to how much I loved the school, the city and the tradition of the program.
I also knew during the process that I wanted to leave Florida. I looked at schools like Winthrop, Duke and West Virginia. I had offers from two of those schools. I knew I wanted a big school with a big athletic program. I knew coming here that I would get the best of those worlds, and that I would like it a lot. It has been a great decision to come here.”
MVM: What made you want to move away from Florida and try something different?
CT: “I always had the mindset that I would go somewhere else, and could always come back to Florida. Everyone I knew went to the University of Florida. I always wanted to see somewhere new, and see where volleyball and academics would take my journey in life. I like trying new things and seeing new places.”
MVM: How exciting was it to beat the University of Florida in the NCAA Regional Semifinals your freshman year?
CT: “It was so sweet. When I found out we could play in the NCAA Tournament at Florida I was so excited, and really motivated to play well. Getting to play Florida in the “Sweet Sixteen” was a great opportunity for both the team and myself. I knew our team had great chemistry and we could win that match. We were such a strong defensive team, and I knew we would play well. The actual experience of playing in Florida during the tournament was great. I had a lot of people from high school and friends and family watching. The way we played in front of my friends and family made me feel even better about what was a great decision to come here.
MVM: In your first two weeks as a collegiate player, you had to fill in right away at libero after the team found out Marci Peniata was going to miss the first two weeks. How did you feel heading into that first match, and the Nebraska Tournament the second week?
CT: “I was obviously intimidated at first when I found out I would play libero right away. I went to Marci when I found out, and tried to figure out what I needed to do to be prepared for that opportunity. She calmed me down, and told me what I should do to be prepared. I had played libero in club volleyball, so I relied on my instincts and what I had learned in preseason here. The coaches gave me free reign those two weekends to go after anything I could get to, which felt good. I didn’t really know what I was doing at that point, they just said go back, dig and pass. It felt good playing at the left back position. In fact it was a harder adjustment to learn when I switched to the middle back position when Marci returned. I was used to left back from club volleyball. Middle back required more scouting and learning what my opponents would do. It was a much more tactical spot, and I had to learn how to prepare more to know what to expect.”
MVM: When you started playing in high school the libero position started to become an established option for a player both at the club and college level. Talk about how that helped you develop as a player, and what opportunities it gave you?
CT: “I think that having the libero position available allows smaller players to be able to have a key role at a high level in Division I volleyball. It really gives people the opportunity to play in college, and it makes the overall game better because it makes the rallies longer and the passing better. I started playing libero right when I began club ball. I played it for about a good five years and I was very used to the mentality of the position by the time I was on my way to picking a college to go to.
The position allows you to focus on playing good defense, and make sure you get to the ball and make good passes every time you get a chance. Having played my whole high school career as a libero really helped me have the right mentality for it when I came to the University of Minnesota. The defensive aspect of the game was always there before the libero position. However, the addition of the position to the college and club levels really elevated defense across the board, because now you have people concentrating on those specific skill sets. I think that has made the whole sport more fun to watch.”
MVM: Talk about the influence Paula Gentil and Marci Peniata had on your career here at Minnesota?
CT: “From my standpoint, Paula (Gentil) did so much to make the libero position more well known in the college game. Some of the stuff she did here at Minnesota has still not been matched by anyone who has come after her. She really opened everyone’s eyes to what that position could do for a team. I think that helped set a path for people like Marci and me who came after her. My freshman year, Marci really taught me how to lead by example and be consistent. I learned from her that I needed to be a steady passer who people can rely on. I wanted to show the same thing to players who came in after me. I want to be able to motivate people around me, and to be an aggressive and steady player.”
MVM: Talk about the volleyball background of your parents, and what effect it had on your development as a player?
CT: “My mom played for the University of Puerto Rico. My dad’s sister played with my mom at the University of Puerto Rico, which is how they met. Since I was five years old, I remember going to the beach for the day, taking everything with us, and my parents playing doubles at beach. I learned a lot of the basic skills of volleyball from playing while I watched my parents. I was actually more of a soccer player at first, but I played volleyball on the side on weekends. I found out about club volleyball, did it for a year and fell in love. My mom was my coach in middle school, and sometimes during club. She really helped me develop as a player through those experiences. I think my passion and aggression comes from her.”
MVM: How great was the opportunity to go to Puerto Rico with the team this past spring?
CT: “Both of my parents grew up in Puerto Rico. Most of my family still lives there. I have been very lucky to have my family see me in Puerto Rico and then Hawai’i this past week. I have never had that many fans watch me since I have been at Minnesota. It was funny, because when we were in Puerto Rico we played against the Caguas club team that my mom played for in high school. It was great to be there and hear my grandmother talk about stories when my mom played. It was also great to have family around, and play in that environment. I really felt at home in Puerto Rico.”
MVM: What type of a leadership role did you try to develop going into your junior season this year?
CT: “Developing my leadership skills was my focus and the thing I tried to change in spring as we prepared for the fall. Being an upperclassmen now, and having played for a while, I wanted to lead by example. After taking a back seat for a couple of years, now I have the experience of playing here for two years, and I have tried to be a person who can answer questions for the younger players about a variety of things. When we are struggling, I want my teammates to look to me and know I can deliver.”
MVM: Talk about what you want to do with your Neuroscience major?
CT: “I am majoring in Neuroscience, and am pre-med right now. I am thinking about going to medical school once I am done playing. It is tough to balance time, but I try to do as much as I can on the road and whenever I get some free time. It is always fun to compare different schoolwork with the different players on the team. People tell me what they are studying, while I talk about some of the liquids I mixed in the lab. This summer, I spilled nitric acid on my arm (points to spot on her arm), so that was an interesting story to tell. I have always been interested in sciences, and can’t imagine doing anything else. It is tough sometimes, but would not trade the major for anything else.”