Traditional roles don’t mean much to this year’s Gophers volleyball team.
Senior Adrianna Nora was an All-America honorable mention last season, and sophomore Hannah Tapp is a preseason All-Big Ten pick, giving coach Hugh McCutcheon two obvious choices for leadership.
The group, however, has chosen to build a system without hierarchy, hoping a sense of equality will spur it to a sixth consecutive NCAA Sweet 16 appearance.
The new structure gets an early test. The Big Ten/ACC Challenge comes to the Sports Pavilion on Friday and Saturday, with Wisconsin and Louisville kicking off the tournament Friday evening. The Gophers play host to Notre Dame in Friday night’s 7 p.m. matchup. Saturday night’s finale with the Gophers and Louisville will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network.
“We are such a well-rounded team that we don’t really have what we consider a leader,” Nora said. “It’s more of a core group because Daly Santana is stepping up, Katie Schau is stepping up. Everyone is taking leadership roles and everyone is kind of depending on everyone [else]. … The home-court advantage for the first few games will be a good kick-start and kind of boost our confidence up a little bit.”
The Gophers enter Friday’s opener ranked No. 12 despite seven sophomores and six freshmen on the roster. Seniors Morgan Bohl and hitter/blocker Nora, and junior outside hitter Santana are the only three upperclassmen on the roster. Santana led the Gophers in aces last season, was second in digs and third in kills.
The loss of All-America hitters Tori Dixon and Ashley Wittman, and a third senior starter in Alexandra Palmer, has forced McCutcheon to also shake up his system. The third-year coach even added two players to the roster the day before the season opener.
“It’ll be considerably different in a lot of ways, and that’s OK at this point,” McCutcheon said. “We’ve got a young team, but I really like the way they’re working. Part of the art is putting a system together leveraging the strengths of the group you have now. … Principally it’s the same idea … but maybe the ways we go about doing it will be a little different.”
McCutcheon has produced strong back-to-back recruiting classes, highlighted by sophomore middle blocker Tapp and freshman outside hitter Alyssa Goehner.
Goehner was a two-time Metro Player of the Year at Lakeville North and considered one of the top players in the country. McCutcheon said Goehner has done a good job making the transition from high school/club volleyball and is expecting a big impact from her throughout the season.
“We’re definitely younger, but I think the older girls have done a good job of helping the new girls this year come in and blend in, and blend together. So there is not much of an age separation,” Tapp said. “We’re on the same level, all equal teammates. There’s not really seniority versus the younger girls.”
Goehner, libero/defensive specialist Dalianliz Rosado and middle blocker Molly Lohman are among the handful of new faces that will be seen on the new video boards at the Sports Pavilion this weekend. It’s the first time since 2010 the Gophers have opened at home.
“I really have no idea how we’re going to stack up, but I do know we’re very capable of playing some very good volleyball,” McCutcheon said. “To be able to play some big matches in a great gym with some TV coverage and all the other good stuff, we feel very fortunate.”