by Kate Wadman
Minnesota faced some tough competition in their preseason schedule. Of their 12 matches, three were against AVCA Top 25 consistently ranked opponents while four more were receiving votes in the top 25. After a strong start to their season, Minnesota goes into Big Ten play with a 10-2 record. The Golden Gophers are prepped and ready to take on the talent of their Big Ten Conference opponents.
Sophomore setter Mia Tabberson adds her opinion about opening a tough conference. “I am glad we played the five set match against San Diego. We lost but we are going to play in those types of matches all throughout the conference this season. It is valuable for us to get used to that and to the five-set feel and knowing what we need to do. It will be exciting.”
A month into their 2010-2011 season, the Gopher team has already faced some great adversity. Senior starters Hailey Cowles and Lauren Gibbemeyer are the most experienced players on the team, especially in terms of Big Ten action. Both players will miss the Big Ten Conference opening weekend due to injuries. The team has had to adjust and take on new roles in order to fill those voids.
“We would of course like to have our seniors in the line-up but they aren’t there,” says Minnesota head coach Mike Hebert. “We are missing some key pieces when it comes to older and veteran players teaching the younger kids what it is like to play in the conference and what to expect.”
The Big Ten Conference is one of the toughest conferences in the nation. How will the newcomers handle their upcoming schedule? They will look to the leadership of those who have been in that position before.
If anyone understands the pressures of being freshman who is expected to make an immediate impact it is outside hitter Katherine Harms and setter Mia Tabberson. The two are now sophomores but last year they carried the expectations of being the number one recruited freshman class in the nation (along with teammates Tabi Love and Brianna Haugen), all while dealing with the unfamiliar world of college. The freshmen made their impact as they helped the 2009 team make it all the way to the NCAA Final Four.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Harms. “We had an awesome team last year. To go all the way through the road bumps we had and still make it to the Final Four was very satisfying. I think being a freshman and having that experience gives you this extra drive to do whatever you can to make it back.”
Another factor that has been helping the team prepare for this season is the depth of skill that each position on the team offers.
“I think it is great for our team because it constantly keeps everyone on their toes and makes you always have to perform at your best,” says Tabberson. “You can hold yourself accountable but somebody else is there holding you accountable as well.”
“You always know that when you are taking those reps and playing in those games that you have to work your hardest because if you slip up and someone is working harder than you. If you take the position for granted then someone can beat you out.” adds Harms.
With a team full of fresh faces, a strong accumulation of overall talent and preparation in the form of a challenging preseason schedule, there is no telling what surprises this season has in store for Gopher fans. This weekend will just be a preview as to what the next couple of months will be like. And the team is just as excited as we are.
Notes: Minnesota will be facing Michigan State at the Breslin Center tonight ... The Gophers match will be one of three at the Breslin Center for the Spartans ... Michigan State will also face Iowa (9/25) and Michigan (11/24) at the Breslin Center ... Last year, both of the Minnesota-Michigan State matches went to five sets ... In the match at East Lansing, Minnesota rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win in five sets ... The Gophers did not lose again until their Final Four matchup against Texas ... Tonight's match will be streamed live on BTN.com.