A year ago this week, the University of Minnesota sent a Sunday night press release that coach Hugh McCutcheon would be resigning at season's end.

After the shock wore off and everyone learned McCutcheon was simply moving on professionally, another question quickly followed: Was the Gophers volleyball program falling apart?

Under very different circumstances this season, that question has returned.

Two stunning losses last weekend at Maryland and at Rutgers left the Gophers at 6-8 overall and tied for ninth in the Big Ten at 2-4. They are still ranked in the top 25, largely because of their strength of schedule.

"It's one day at a time, being where our feet are and working through our problems," senior setter Melani Shaffmaster said. "Any good team can face adversity like this; it's just our first time. ... We're all trying to figure it out together."

Before last weekend, Minnesota had never lost to Maryland, and its only losses to Rutgers came in 1983. Maryland is having a solid season, but it had been swept by Navy and Ohio State, and the day after defeating Minnesota, it was swept by Indiana. Rutgers had never defeated a ranked opponent. It hadn't won a Big Ten match all season after going 2-18 in conference play in 2022.

If the losses were shocking, they did not come out of thin air.

On paper, the Gophers rebounded after McCutcheon's announcement. They brought in a highly successful coach in Keegan Cook who had a résumé filled with deep NCAA tournament runs and Pac-12 titles at Washington. They added necessary veteran transfers including Phoebe Awoleye, Lydia Grote and reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Kylie Murr. They also retained the bulk of their roster with starters Taylor Landfair, Mckenna Wucherer and Shaffmaster sticking with the program.

But if the roster was not decimated, cracks appeared. The loss of highly touted incoming freshman libero Laney Choboy to Nebraska along with the graduation of CC McGraw and Rachel Kilkelly meant that the team lacked depth in the back row. The loss of Carter Booth to Wisconsin meant they were without one of the most dominant young middle blockers in the country. Jenna Wenaas' move to Texas left them without one of their best all-around players.

All of the roster moves and some solid recruiting news masked another reality — the Gophers struggled at times last season with McCutcheon. When he announced his pending resignation, they were 10-6, with losses to Pepperdine and Northwestern. The team rallied together after the announcement and an incredible final weekend of the regular season with Top 10 road wins at Ohio State and Nebraska got them to 20-8 overall and 15-5 in conference.

That late-season momentum mixed with Cook's hire, the returning players and new transfers gave a tantalizing possibility: Could the Gophers not only withstand McCutcheon's departure, but thrive in the wake?

Two months into this season, they have provided a reminder that a team is not created on paper and a season is not predictive.

"It's not just all about talent," Murr said. "It's about chemistry and knowing the system and everybody buying into that. With a new coach that takes time, obviously, day by day we're still buying in. We're still trying. It's just going to take us some time, luckily for us there's still time left."

The Gophers had issues from the word go, and the second they seemingly get one under control, like backrow passing, another pops up, like mounting service errors. Landfair is defending her Big Ten Player of the Year title but got off to a visibly sluggish start. She has played better of late, just as Wucherer has seen errors add up and has been taken out of playing six-rotation.

In the midst of it all is a bulky knee brace, worn by Shaffmaster. In volleyball, the setter is the soul of the offense, dictating pace and offensive game plan. At 6-3, Shaffmaster has unique size and power for her position, an excellent defensive approach and intuitive attacking instincts. She has done all she can to fulfill that role, but her mobility has been hampered by a knee injury. On top of that, she sat out the Maryland match due to an illness and didn't start against Rutgers.

Call it Murphy's Law, call it a perfect storm, but those results last weekend did not come out of nowhere. Iowa took Minnesota to five sets in the Big Ten opener, and the Gophers have spent the season looking unprepared at the start of matches, losing the first set 10 times, and allowing mammoth scoring runs.

They are trying to build a foundation with some of the most highly touted individuals in the sport playing for a coach who is unaccustomed to losing. They have espoused a collective mantra this season: Commitment is not conditional.

The mantra is being heavily tested, but Cook said it's up to him to keep them from wavering.

"I have been in a little more adversity than them, right? I sometimes joke with them that I have lived your life twice, in terms of age," said Cook, 38. "They are experiencing some firsts. You're trying to give them the best guidance you can, thinking both in the short term and in the long term of life and how they are going to handle the real adversities waiting for them."

They face Michigan in Ann Arbor on Wednesday, then they come home for Northwestern on Sunday. The season marches on even if questions remain.