Nucci and Sooter Look Forward to California Trip Stephanie Nucci and Steffi Sooter came from the state of California to join the Gopher squad and return there this week.
By Kate Wadman University of Minnesota Athletic Communications
For some of the players this week is more than just a weekend vacation. It is a homecoming. Junior setter Stephanie Nucci and freshman defensive specialist Steffi Sooter came from the state of California to join the Gopher squad. Nucci spent three years prior to this season playing at UCLA (She red-shirted her freshman season and played the next two). Sooter on the other hand has roots in California. She was raised in Santa Cruz and grew up playing volleyball on the beach. Excitement is certainly the feeling running through the team but not quite like the two girls going home. “I am so excited,” said Sooter. “Words can’t even describe how I am feeling.” The tournament in San Diego brings more than the opportunity for Nucci and Sooter to work on their tan. It also gives them the pleasure of playing in front of friends and family, something most of their teammates get to experience on a weekly basis. “I am extremely excited, I obviously have been in Minnesota all summer so I haven’t been able to make any trips back,” said Nucci. “I pretty excited to see everyone. I am originally from Arizona so my whole family is going to be down there. My mom, my sister, my dad, and then a couple of friends from UCLA.” Minnesota will face UC Santa Barbara on Friday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. (CT) at San Diego State, play at San Diego State on Saturday, Sept. 18 at 1 p.m. (CT), and finish the tournament at No. 23 San Diego at 9 p.m. (CT). However, the trip won’t be all work. During their free time in between games, the girls will be sure to take advantage of their surroundings. “We will be enjoying the warm weather for sure,” said Nucci. “We are actually going to go down to Mike’s (Coach Hebert) house. We’re going to go there, have dinner and hang out down by the beach for a bit so it should be fun.” However, do not worry. The team knows the tournament is all business. They will face some of the most talented teams they will have played in their non-conference schedule. Like Minnesota, their opponents are also members of tough conferences like the Big Ten. UC Santa Barbara plays in the Big West Conference a traditionally strong conference that also has No. 24 Long Beach State in it. San Diego State is in the Mountain West Conference along with No. 14 Colorado State and other quality programs. The University of San Diego, who will probably be the Gophers toughest match of the weekend, is a member of the West Coast Conference in which they are expected to vie for the top spot with Saint Mary’s (an NCAA Tournament Second Round team). “California teams are very fast paced,” said Sooter. “They dig really well and are strong passing teams. I think for us we just have to adjust and we’ll be fine.” “We just need to focus on ourselves and our side of the net,” said Nucci. “Once we get that done, and we get in a rhythm we should be fine.” The match-ups will be tough. Minnesota knows it and has been preparing for them all week. Coach Hebert thinks San Diego will be the perfect end to the preseason that will also help prepare for their Big Ten competition. “It’s the perfect test for us,” said Hebert. “Particularly, since we’ll probably be playing with a shortened lineup without Gibbemeyer being in there. So it is going to be good that we’re going to learn how to play with a different cast of characters for the second week in a row.” The tournament will also hold special meaning for Hebert, as when the Gophers take the court against UC Santa Barbara he will be coaching against his alma mater. “Thinking back, I can barely remember. It has been a long time. It’s a very good volleyball school. The religion at Santa Barbara is volleyball and they have a good team every year. They’re known for their scrappy defense, their hustle, their serving and their fighting attitude. They’re a very difficult team to play. It would be nice to walk off the court with a win over Santa Barbara.” If the Gophers win the tournament, they will have claimed championship titles in every tournament of their preseason schedule. They won the Golden Gopher Invite and the Diet Coke Classic at home, and last weekend won the Duke Invitational in Durham, N.C. One more would give them even more confidence going into conference play that will hopefully generate a solid season. Fingers crossed.
Tournament Notes - When Minnesota faces UC Santa Barbara on Friday, Sept. 17 it will be the first time the two teams will meet since 2000 NCAA Regional Semifinals in Honolulu. In that match, the Gophers brought what was at the time the best team in school history (with Lindsey Berg and Nicole Branagh, but lost in four sets to see their season record end at 30-4 ... Minnesota and San Diego State face each other for the first time sincd 1996. In that match, which took place on Aug. 30, 1996, Mike Hebert made his debut as the head coach of the Golden Gopher program. Minnesota lost in four sets that day ... Former Golden Gopher Lindsey Berg currently lives in Los Angeles and is training with the USA National Team in Anaheim, Calif. ... Berg may be in attendance at one of the Gophers' matches this week ... Minnesota is competing in San Diego for the first time since 2001 when they finished second at the San Diego Invitational with a record of 3-1.