Gophers Practice for Sweet 16

Dec. 13, 2013

As the University of Minnesota volleyball team prepares for the NCAA Sweet 16, the Gophers have had some recent media coverage, as well as participating in the regional press conferences. Take a look at the articles as well as a video from the pre-tournament press conference. The Friday match will be broadcast on ESPN3. To find out if your internet provider carries ESPN3, check out this link.


Star Tribune article
Pioneer Press article
Minnesota Daily Article
GoldandGopher article

Lexington Regional
Memorial Coliseum
Dec. 12, 2013
Pre-Tournament Press Conference

Minnesota Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon

Opening statement …
“On behalf of the University of Minnesota, our team and our program, we’re very happy to be here in Lexington in the third round of this tournament. We’re excited to play Stanford, we know they’re a good volleyball team. We expect everyone at this stage in the tournament to be good, so that’s not a surprise. We hope we can play some good ball tomorrow.”

On having played in Lexington earlier in the year …
“I think perhaps it’s a small advantage, but most of the teams at this phase have played well in different gyms all over the country. A gym is a gym, a net is a net and a ball is still a ball, so I don’t think it’s that big of a difference. We’re happy to have gotten a few hours in here and we’re familiar with the environment with the gym setup and the floor, I think it’s good to be back. I’m not sure it’s a difference-maker though.”


 

 

On facing Stanford …
“Good volleyball team, well balanced with a lot of different offensive options. Like I said, at this phase, everyone’s pretty good, they’re no exception.”

On the Big Ten season preparing you for postseason play …
“I don’t know about the other coaches, but when we’re going through it, I was thinking ‘oh my gosh, this is incredible.’ The level of play, how demanding it was every night, regardless of who our opponent was. I use the word often, ‘awesome,’ to describe it. Not in a collicular sense, but in a bigger sense, it was incredible. In terms of preparing for an opponent in the Sweet 16, it’s quick, because every night you have to show up and play and we’re certainly going to have to do that tomorrow. More importantly, I think the idea of being able to go back-to-back tough matches, which at this phase of the tournament is pretty critical, is another valuable lesson we’ve all learned from competing in a very rigorous conference.”

On the program’s fifth straight Sweet 16 …
“For the program, it has been five straight and I guess I can only speak for my experiences, which are not as vast as others, but I think it’s good to one, have an understanding and appreciation of the potential pressures that can arise from this environment, I think it helps to normalize this level of play at this phase of the tournament. It’s important, at the end of the day, we’re going to go play volleyball tomorrow. We don’t need to play super-duper special volleyball, we just have to play our game and see what happens. I think that’s an advantage. Secondly, just for our athletes, I know they have high aspirations and they have big goals, and I think we should, that’s great, but the continued history of success allows us to speak those words and set those goals with conviction, not with hope. That’s good enough of an advantage for us.”

#6 Tori Dixon, MB

 On how close she is with Stanford standout Carly Wopat …
“We met when we were really young. We played on a youth nationals team together when we were 13 or 14—something like that. We have grown up in this volleyball world. Club volleyball and stuff like that. We’ve had a chance to hang out over the summer. Yeah, we’re friends and even teammates at one point.”

On if there has been any trash talking between her and Carly Wopat …
“She sent me (a video on) how to kill a gopher. I sent her back (a video about) chopping down trees.”

On what weaknesses they see in Stanford …
“Every team has weaknesses and ups and downs and things like that. Our main goal is to play consistent and tough gopher volleyball. (We need to) do what we’ve been doing all year.”

On the magnitude of this tournament …
“It’s always in the back of your head. It’s hard to forget about. You and the rest of the coaching staff have tried to put it in your head that it’s just another volleyball game and just a ball and a net and a court. We’re trying to do the best we can to (forget about) the hype around it and do what we’ve been doing every day for the past four months.”

 

#21 Alexandra Palmer, S

 On not playing as much compared to last year …
“That’s okay. I don’t mind. It’s what is in the best interest of the team. We have a lot of depth on our team. We have 18 girls on our team. We’ve got a lot of strong hitters. Being able to go to the 6-2 has allowed us to use all of those hitters to the best that we can. Now we have three in the front row, it gives us more options.”

On how playing a tough schedule has helped them prepare for the Sweet 16 …
“I think it’s been a long, grueling season, especially being in the Big Ten. We’ve been trying to get better at every single practice and every single day we are on the court. I think the last few weeks have come together. We know what to do on the court—there’s no question there. It’s really just getting after it with the tools that our coaches have put in our toolkits for us.”

Stanford Head Coach John Dunning

 

Opening statement …
“I’d just like to say it’s great to be here. The level of competition here is amazing. I’d like to congratulate two of my four seniors who are here with me that have had a lot to do with us being here. They are determined players, they are leaders and they have all done well on their (academic) finals for sure. We are just looking forward to playing. Minnesota is a great team. Their coach is obviously one of the greatest coaches in the world and it’s obviously great to play against teams who really know what they’re doing, and Minnesota really knows what they’re doing.”

On the schedule preparing them for the NCAA Tournament …
“I would say that all of the other teams here have prepared themselves for being here by playing a lot of other good teams throughout the season. I was a little surprised by our season. I didn’t think we played very well at the start compared to what we could have. But then you sit back and look at it, and you say that it had to be. We started out playing good teams. It made us find out what we had to do to get better and I’m really proud of them. One of my mottos is that we want to be a team that improves to the last day of the season. They really try hard to do that everyday. The teams here are all really prepared.”

 On what a challenging early season weekend at Texas did to prepare the team … 
“I think it just was a process. When you look at our team, we’re still really young. We have two veteran players who are here with me, but we also have four kids who play almost all the time who this is their second year. At that point, that was just the start of their second year. So, the group of them is learning how to play with each other, they know each other better, we’ve worked on all the little things that add up at the end of the season, but more than anything else, it’s just a group growing and believing in what they can actually do. I thought the whole time it was just going to take a while to work with the process of them growing. The other teams did a good job on us in the early part of the season. You don’t want to take away credit from them, because they were good, but we didn’t do a lot of the thing that we could do. It motivated us, and we were just going through the process. Losing helps you understand what to do in the process.”

 On what makes a successful head coach in any sport …
“I think you have to have an environment where people can learn in. Somehow that has to happen. There are always things to learn, there are always things to get better at. The game is changing constantly, so the environment has to be one that there is want, they seek, and they are able to learn. I think you have to have an environment when the players show how much they care about one another, because that’s where inspiration comes from. The caring and the love for the people around you. I don’t think great levels of play can come without inspiration, so coaches can help. A lot of that is how the players interact with each other. We have to create an environment where the players seek the positive things to come out from that. It’s a challenge because every team is different and every era is different. There are a lot of other things like Xs and Os that you also have to factor in. But, the key is the human interaction by far.”

 

#2 Carly Wopat, MB

 On her friendship with Minnesota middle blocker Tori Dixon
“Tori and I have been friends for a while. We started playing together in the USA program. We’ve grown up together and sort of bonded together overseas. This past summer we got to train together a little bit more. I am just really excited to play against Tori because it’s never happened before. It’s about time, my senior year. I can help my teammates out because I know her well, and she knows me as well. It will be interesting especially if we are both up at the net against each other. We know each other’s styles.”

 On responding to losses early in the season …
“Looking back on those matches we did lose them, but we could have won them. There’s a difference between losing to a team where you deserve to lose, or knowing that you were there with a chance. We knew we were there, and we knew we could get better. Hopefully when we meet those teams later in the season, which we might do, we might meet Penn State, we would be ready to play them again. This time we would know we could play them.

 #6 Rachel Williams, OH

 On the team’s run of wins since October …
“Our mental focus is there. We, like coach said, we are improving every day in practice and working to do so when we are in practice or in a match. I would say we have seen changes offensively and we have seen them on defense. Pretty much in every aspect; our serving has gotten so much better since the beginning of the season. Our hitters are doing a lot better connecting with the setter and knowing where to move the ball taking advantage of the block more. I think it’s all aspects. It’s not one thing that we needed to fix where there was a click this season.”

On responding to back-to-back losses vs. Florida and Texas in early September …
“It was a sign that we needed to get better. We were still proud. There were moments in matches and games in matches where we played well so we saw what we could do. Our consistency wasn’t there at that point, but it definitely didn’t make us fearful or doubt what we could do this season. It only inspired us to get better. It also prepared us in terms of the environment we were in. We played Texas in front of four or five-thousand fans. It was a feeling that we don’t get on a regular basis. Regardless of the outcome I think next time we’re in a situation like that we will be able to handle it better (because of the experience at Texas).”