New setting nets success for U volleyball duo

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 7, 2012 - 6:57 AM

Santa Clara transfers Dana Knudsen and Alexandra Palmer make immediate contributions.

hide

Minnesota's Alexandra Palmer set the ball up for a spike.

Photo: Marisa Wojcik, Special To The Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

When Dana Knudsen chose to leave her native California to come to Minnesota, she understood the reaction of the many friends who thought she must have lost her mind. A few years earlier, she would have felt the same way.

At age 18, the quintessential California girl could not fathom playing college volleyball outside of her home state. After three years at Santa Clara University, though, Knudsen had changed her outlook. "I needed to get out in the world and see things, be around different kinds of people,'' she said. "And Minnesota was a perfect fit.''

Knudsen committed last January to play her senior season with the Gophers. A few months later, she learned she wasn't alone; Santa Clara teammate Alexandra Palmer, also seeking a change of scenery, decided to join the Gophers as well. The two West Coast expatriates adapted without a hitch, becoming integral members of a Gophers team that will play Purdue on Friday in the NCAA tournament's round of 16.

The 6-3 Knudsen, a middle blocker, is among an array of powerful hitters who give the Gophers plenty of options on offense. Palmer, a 5-7 junior setter, is a gym rat whose skills and savvy have strengthened the Gophers' attack.

Among many new experiences this season -- including buying heavy sweaters -- none has been as gratifying as advancing to the NCAA regional semifinal in West Lafayette, Ind., where the winner of the Gophers-Purdue match will play Penn State or Kentucky on Saturday for a berth in the Final Four.

"Palmer and I both wanted to be great players, and we wanted to win a national championship,'' said Knudsen, from Sacramento, Calif. "In the last year of my college career, I wanted to go out with everything I had. This has been a great experience.''

Palmer hasn't even had time to miss the beach, where she went every day. A native of Laguna Beach, Calif., she averages 10.01 assists per set, ranking eighth in the Big Ten. Her setting has propelled the Gophers to a .301 hitting percentage, fifth-best mark in the nation.

Knudsen is hitting .403 this season and averages 0.89 blocks per set, both second best on the team. She shined in the Gophers' first- and second-round NCAA victories over Liberty and Creighton last weekend, matching her season high with 11 kills and had five blocks against Creighton.

Though Knudsen made the all-West Coast Conference team last season as a junior at Santa Clara, she had developed a desire for travel and adventure. Knudsen, who is pursuing a master's degree in sports administration, said Minnesota offered the ideal combination of academics and athletics. During a campus visit, she clicked with the players and the coaches, but Laura Bush, interim head coach at the time, offered no promises regarding her role.

That was fine with Knudsen, who was looking for coaches who would push her to improve.

Palmer also came in with no assurances and felt the same way.

"I was just thankful for the opportunity,'' said Palmer, who chose the Gophers independently of Knudsen. "I came in with an open mind, just wanting to play the best volleyball I could. I've learned so much.''

Both players ended up starting most matches this season. Knudsen had only 10 weeks to get into game shape after having reconstructive surgery on her ankle last spring, but coach Hugh McCutcheon said she improved her blocking this season and has been eager to embrace the Gophers' system. Palmer loves film sessions and working on the technical details of her position.

Knudsen said she is sad that her time with the Gophers will be brief. But she and Palmer are committed to making their first season outside California last as long as possible.

"We're fortunate to have both of them,'' said Bush, now an associate coach for the Gophers. "We would be a different team without either one.''

  • related content

  • Preview: NCAA volleyball West Lafayette Regional

    Thursday December 6, 2012

    Penn State at a glance: The nation's top-ranked team has won 10 matches in a row and made the NCAA tournament field for the 32nd consecutive year. The Nittany Lions...

  • NCAA VOLLEYBALL

    Regional semifinal: Gophers vs. Purdue, 6 tonight, West Lafayette, Ind.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Fla Southern 2 FINAL
Detroit 12
FIU 2 FINAL
Miami 7
Toronto 114 FINAL
Philadelphia 103
Golden State 108 FINAL
Brooklyn 110
Phoenix 98 FINAL
Miami 115
LA Clippers 110 FINAL
Minnesota 105
New Orleans 93 FINAL
Dallas 102
Nashville 1 FINAL
NY Rangers 4
Carolina 2 FINAL
Chicago 5
Montreal 0 FINAL
San Jose 4
Virginia 59 FINAL
Syracuse 47
Baylor 59 FINAL
Texas 61
SE Louisiana 79 FINAL
Northwestern St 92
Central Arkansas 49 FINAL
Sam Houston St 76
Norfolk State 59 FINAL
Howard 61
Bethune-Cookman 50 FINAL
NC A&T 67
Hampton 75 FINAL
Delaware State 85
Lamar 69 FINAL
McNeese State 70
Nicholls 89 FINAL
New Orleans 79
Incarnate Word 62 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 83
NC Central 62 FINAL
Savannah State 49
Texas Southern 77 FINAL
Alabama A&M 75
Prairie View 67 FINAL
Alabama State 65
Oklahoma 70 FINAL
Iowa State 77
Grambling St 62 FINAL
Miss Valley St 66
Boston College 66 FINAL
Virginia Tech 59
Jackson State 62 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 64
Bethune-Cookman 55 FINAL
NC A&T 58
Hampton 78 FINAL
Delaware State 63
Norfolk State 63 FINAL
Howard 60
NC Central 54 FINAL
Savannah State 65
Texas Southern 83 FINAL
Alabama A&M 46
Prairie View 42 FINAL
Alabama State 60
Jackson State 78 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 74
Grambling 56 FINAL
Miss Valley St 61
Tulsa 71 FINAL
Cincinnati 58
(1) Connecticut 88 FINAL
South Florida 65
UCF 57 FINAL
East Carolina 67
Central Conn St 53 FINAL
Bryant 55
Wagner 66 FINAL
Robert Morris 60
Sacred Heart 75 FINAL
Fairleigh Dickinson 84
St Francis-NY 73 FINAL
Long Island 49
Mount St Marys 87 FINAL
St Francis-PA 90
Temple 56 FINAL
Houston 45
Texas Tech 65 FINAL
(6) Baylor 75
Iowa State 64 FINAL
Kansas 68
SMU 60 FINAL
Memphis 53
Oklahoma 66 FINAL
Oklahoma St 56

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Wild finish out the hockey season?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close