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Minnesota Volleyball: Season Preview

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Gophers will look to improve on last season’s Final Four finish with a reloaded roster.

Gophersports.com

While Minnesota has established themselves atop the Big Ten they are still looking to assert their dominance nationally and cement themselves as a blue blood program. Despite some hefty departures from last year’s team the 2017 Gophers look up to the task.

Minnesota graduated six letterwinners, four of which were key contributors; three specifically were starters- Hannah Tapp, Paige Tapp, and Sarah Wilhite. To make up for the losses Coach McCutcheon and staff added a six member recruiting class which was ranked 4th by Volleyballmag.com.

Minnesota opens their season Friday at 4:30 CT against No. 11 North Carolina in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge in Madison. Saturday they’ll play Louisville at 4:00 CT.

Team Outlook

Having Samantha Seliger-Swenson on the roster is a big boost for the Gophers and they’ll look to make the most of her last two seasons of college ball. She’ll have a couple of veteran hitters in the offense and trio of freshman. Alexis Hart and Molly Lohman will carry the offensive load this season. Minnesota’s passing game and defense should be solid as libero Dalianliz Rosado is back as are defensive specialists Alyssa Goehner and Sophie Beckley.

The biggest question for this year’s team is who will play outside, opposite of Alexis Hart. McCutcheon has some options and it seems he’ll go with freshman Jazmyn Martin. It’s likely though she may not hold down the spot all season as the lineup gets ironed out. Middle blocker Regan Pittman is more than ready for game action. Last season she was able learn from a couple of All-Americans and this summer she played on the USA Junior National U-20 team. At opposite Stephanie Samedy is also college ready coming in as the fourth ranked recruit in her class.

Projected Lineup

Setter: Samantha Seliger-Swenson

Right Side: Stephanie Samedy

Middle Blocker: Molly Lohman

Middle Blocker: Regan Pittman

Outside: Alexis Hart

Outside: Jazmyn Martin

Libero: Dalianliz Rosado

Defensive Specialists: Alyssa Goehner, Sophie Beckley

Conference Outlook

Run down in order of projected finish as voted on by the conference coaches.

1. Penn State

The Nittany Lions return all their starters from last season. While they were at times inconsistent last season they likely will have things ironed out this year. All-Americans Simone Lee and Haleigh Washington lead a powerful offense. How far Penn State will go will depend though on Ali Frantti, Tori Gorrell, and their right side hitter.

2. Nebraska

Like the Gophers, Nebraska’s starting lineup will look much different due to graduating some All-Americans. Their returners are all veteran, experienced players who will look to lead a seven member freshman class, including two redshirt freshman. Cook and his team will also have to adjust to a new staff as his previous assistants have moved on to head coaching positions.

3. Minnesota

4. Michigan State

The Spartans are the leading contender to break up the top four of Penn State, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Minnesota for the first time since Illinois did it in 2014. They have size, experience and serving in spades. They also brought in a talented freshman class to add some depth and competition in practice.

5. Wisconsin

Lauren Carlini and and classmates Haleigh Nelson and Romana Kriskova have graduated yet the Badgers still have a lot of great pieces to work with. They’ll have a new setter this year, the number three recruit Sydney Hilley. Hilley and her fellow recruits will look to complement a solid core of Lauryn Gillis, Kelli Bates, Molly Haggerty, Tionna Williams and M.E. Dodge.

6. Purdue

The Boilermakers lost their starting middle blocker and libero from last season. Impactful, though limited, losses means Purdue has a lot of experience left on their roster. Consistency and ball control will be key for Purdue to rebound from a somewhat disappointing 10th place finish a season ago.

7. Michigan

The Wolverine’s graduated only two hitters from last year’s Sweet Sixteen squad that nearly made it to the Elite Eight. This season they’ll again be a factor in the conference race but not likely a top contender.

8. Ohio State

Ohio State is another team looking to break through, last season they were the only team to win in Lincoln. They’ll try to replicate that success this season without some defensive stalwarts who graduated; middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe and libero Valeria Leon. Fortunately for OSU they have Setter-Outside hitter Taylor Hughes back to lead the Buckeyes again.

9. Illinois

Former Nebraska assistant Chris Tamas is at the helm of the Illini squad this year. Lucky for him he has some strong essential pieces; libero Brandi Donnelly, setter Jordyn Poulter, and middle blocker Ali Bastianelli. Tamas inherited a good recruiting class from Kevin Hamby who is now at Stanford the trick will be to see how they fit in and develop during the season.

10. Iowa

Head Coach Bond Shymansky still has the Hawkeye’s trending up even with the losses of All-Big Ten setter Loxley Keala and two hitters. This season he has added another transfer to bolster his roster as they continue to make inroads in recruiting.

11. Maryland

The Terrapins are getting better. That said, they’ve got a long way to go to contend in the Big Ten. Their ninth ranked recruiting class should help in years to come as Steven Aird keeps building the program.

12. Northwestern

Similar to Maryland, Northwestern is trending up. Coach Shane Davis, who has won two men’s national titles, has brought in a large class and has a capable outside hitter, Symone Abbott to lead his team as they try to escape the basement of the Big Ten.

13. Indiana

The Hoosiers graduated some top performers from last years squad. IU is respectable but they are just out-classed in the Big Ten.

14. Rutgers

The Scarlet Knights are in over their head in the Big Ten. Coach CJ Werneke has brought in several players from abroad to try and boost his teams competitiveness in a loaded league.

AVCA Rankings

#1 Texas (24)

#2 Stanford (35)

#3 Washington (2)

#4 Minnesota (2)

#5 Nebraska

(first-place votes)

Big Ten teams ranked:

#6 Penn State

#7 Wisconsin

#16 Michigan

#17 Michigan State

#21 Ohio State

#25 Purdue.

Ranked Opponents

Aside from the plethora of ranked teams Minnesota will face in league play they will face No. 11 North Carolina and No. 1 Texas this season. Additionally they’ll play Boise State who received votes in the preseason poll.

Televised Games

This season, Gopher matches will be televised a minimum seven times including one appearance on ESPN. Four matches at the end of the season have been reserved by the Big Ten Network as wildcard selections. Matches not televised will be on BTN+. When the Gophers play at Texas their matches will air on the Longhorn Network.

Sept. 24, home vs. Michigan State, 12 p.m., ESPN

Sept. 29, at Nebraska, 5 p.m., BTN

Oct. 4, at Wisconsin, 7 p.m., BTN

Oct. 11, home vs. Purdue, 6 p.m., BTN

Oct. 18, at Ohio State, 7 p.m. CT, BTN

Oct. 21, home vs. Wisconsin, 7:30 p.m., BTN

Oct. 25, home vs. Illinois, 8 p.m., BTN

This will surely be another exciting season. If you have a chance I highly encourage you to go to a match. The Pav is a great environment and you’ll get to see some high caliber volleyball.