Throughout the course of Mike Hebert’s tenure at Minnesota, the program has relied on the tremendous talent base throughout Minnesota. However, one of the underlying traits that has helped as much as the incoming talent is the loyalty that top players in the state have shown the program in committing early, trusting the staff and growing into high achieving performers.
One of the current Golden Gophers on that path is Lauren Gibbemeyer. During high school when they were trying to select colleges, Lauren and club teammate Brook Dieter decided they would like to attend the same university and play together. This package deal would end up including the No. 4 and 5 ranked high school seniors in the nation. The University of Minnesota had the fortune of having a great history of attracting top local talent, and being highly successful. That package made it a quick early decision for the combo.
“Seeing players like Cassie Busse and Kelly Bowman who were talented local players that committed early to Minnesota, had great careers and played on great teams inspired my decision,” said Gibbemeyer. “I knew I would get to play for a great program, with excellent coaches and I could be close to family.”
Hebert recalls the decisions that past players have made, and the decision that Lauren and Brook made. “Of course your goal when you come to a program is to close down the borders and get the top talent in the state,” said Hebert. “I think we have done that well here. However, there is also a sense of loyalty and work ethic in this part of the country that stands out a little more when those type of decisions are made. I think that aspect and the success we have had makes it easy for local players to make a decision to come here. It has made our job easier when other coaches know that certain players in the area have already made up their minds as juniors to commit to Minnesota. I still remember Lauren and Brook sitting in my office as juniors in high school. Lauren agreed to come to our program first, and Brook said yes about five seconds later. It was great for our program to be able to get two players of that quality to come in together and already have that built in chemistry.”
After bringing in Lauren as part of the No. 4 ranked recruiting class in the nation Minnesota got off to a strong start in 2007, which included a 5-0 Big Ten start. However, the Golden Gophers had a rough stretch after that and finished a somewhat uneven season determined to fix things and come back with a strong year in 2008.
“My first year was interesting,” said Gibbemeyer. “We came in with such high expectations immediately. Last year was hard because we had so many ups and downs. I think this year we have all matured a lot. We have figured out how to play as a team better this year. This year, the focus is to not think about anything from an individual standpoint, everything we do is for the good of the team.”
Hebert notes that for Cowles, Dieter and Gibbemeyer the adjustment was mostly from a mental standpoint heading into their sophomore seasons.
“There is always an adjustment coming from the club level to Division I,” said Hebert. “However, we knew those three all had the talent to come and adjust to that relatively quickly. The toughest part was having a group of players who were used to winning every time they took the floor. When we started losing last year, they struggled with that. I think all three of those players have really done a good job of learning the mental part of that game, and that has already and will make them better players as they progress in their careers.”
Gibbemeyer notes that this year’s team is a more confident group who all feel comfortable relying on one another.
“This year our confidence a lot better,” said Gibbemeyer. “We know what to expect out of each other when we take the court, and we all trust each other and are ready to pick each other up if one of us is not playing our best.”
Some of that confidence has come with having a year under their belt. While Cowles, Dieter and Gibbemeyer are all used to playing with each other, there is always an adjustment from a freshman to sophomore season. One of the big differences is the comfort level Lauren now has with setter Rachel Hartmann.
“Rachel has really stepped up on and off the court this year,” said Gibbemeyer. “I knew coming in as a freshman that it might take a little while to figure out each other’s playing style. We worked a lot in practice last year, this spring and even this year. It has gotten to the point where I feel so comfortable I could go up with my eyes close and know Rachel will put it right there for me to hit.”
Hartmann is in agreement that the chemistry between the two has come along well, and recognizes how important it is to have a talent like Gibbemeyer.
“Lauren is a very talented athlete who can get the to the ball very quickly and has very good timing,” said Hartmann. “We have done a good job of getting our timing down. At this point, I know I can put the ball up there and she will get to it and make something good happen. It is also comfortable, because setting her is similar at times to setting Meredith Nelson who I played with for two years.”
Gibbemeyer realized coming into the program the tradition of Minnesota middle blockers. Gibbemeyer plays along side Kelly Schmidt this year, and played with Jessy Jones last year. However, she points to Nelson as a player who she patterned herself after as she prepared to come to the University of Minnesota.
“Meredith (Nelson) use to work with middle blockers in my club program one or two days a week,” said Gibbemeyer. “She has been my role model since she started working with us. I wanted to have her number here and play like her. I always admired her competitive fire on the court. It is something I try to bring to the team as well.”
Gibbemeyer’s development as a player has been very quick since she started playing the sport. She mentions the fact that she missed tryouts for volleyball in middle school, and decided to go out for the team as a freshman in high school because people told her she was tall and she could be good.
“I made the freshman team in my first year of high school,” said Gibbemeyer. “I had so much fun, and I wondered what I had been missing by not playing volleyball before that point.”
In her second year with the Minnesota volleyball program, she feels that she has already learned quite a bit about herself both on and off the court from her first year at Minnesota.
“We had so many ups and downs last year and I learned a great deal,” said Gibbemeyer. “Sometimes it takes a lot of hard work, but if the group is committed to it you can be successful. That is something I can apply on the court and in my life.”
After being named the National Player of the Week for Sept. 15 by the AVCA, it appears Lauren has learned the lessons from her first year well and is ready to take them forward toward a highly successful 2008 season.