The Gophers volleyball team is ranked No. 12 in the preseason American Volleyball Coaches Association ratings. Minnesota had a 26-9 record last season and was No. 10 in the final AVCA poll.
Four-time defending NCAA champion Penn State is rated No. 1 with 54 of a possible 60 first-place votes. Five other Big Ten teams in the top 25 are No. 5 Nebraska, No. 8 Illinois, No. 13 Purdue, No. 21 Ohio State and tied for No. 24 Michigan.
The Gophers open their season against No. 2 Southern Cal in the AVCA Showcase on Aug. 26 at Penn State. The 5 p.m. match will be shown live on the Big Ten Network.
The public will get a glimpse of the Gophers during Volley School, a scrimmage and volleyball tutorial from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at the Sports Pavilion.
"We're very excited about our place in the poll, but we realize that we'll have work to do to live up to that ranking," interim head coach Laura Bush was quoted as saying on the Gophers volleyball web site. "It's a testament of how Gopher Volleyball has been viewed historically throughout the country and we hope we can continue that strong tradition throughout the year."
The Gophers lost two key players from last season, middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer, an all-american who graduated, and 6-6 outside hitter Tabi Love, who transferred to UCLA.
But the team has talent, if not a lot of depth. Two key returning players are outside hitter Ashley Wittman and middle blocker Tori Dixon, both sophomores.
Wittman was first on the tea last year in kills with 442, second in kills per set at 3.43 and first in solo blocks with 30. She was only freshman in nation to average more than three kills and three digs per set.
Dixon played all three front-line spot and was third in kills with 305, third in hitting percentage at .288, second in blocks with 105 and third in blocks per set at 0.84.
Junior Mia Tabberson returns as the top setter. She had 900 assists last season and averaged 10.8 assists per set.
Senior Jessica Granquist is one of the best liberos in the country. She had a team-high 668 digs, the second highest total in team history and was named the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year. Wittman was second on the team in digs with 400.
Those are four veterans to build around and a fifth, redshirt senior Hailey Cowles also returns after missing last season after ACL knee surgery. She was named to the Final Four all-tournament team in 2009.