The Gophers volleyball team starts its season this weekend in Chapel Hill, N.C., facing North Carolina and Florida State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The defending Big Ten champions are ranked third in the American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll, behind defending national champion Stanford and 2018 NCAA runner-up Nebraska. While the Gophers fell short of reaching the Final Four last season, they finished with a 27-4 record (19-1 Big Ten) and return their top five hitters.

Opening weekend

The Gophers are 9-1 all-time in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, with a 2014 loss to Louisville the only blemish. Last year, they opened the season at Target Center against the same two opponents, beating North Carolina 3-1 and sweeping Florida State.

The Seminoles (19-10, 15-3 ACC last season) received votes in the preseason national poll, and they are second behind Pitt in the ACC preseason coaches' poll. Their roster includes outside hitter Jasmyn Martin of Brooklyn Park, who transferred to Florida State after two seasons at the U. North Carolina went 8-19 overall and 4-14 in the ACC last season.

Ready, set, go

The Gophers have seven newcomers on their roster, with at least one — setter Kylie Miller — likely to have a major role from the start. Miller, a transfer from UCLA, is expected to take over for Samantha Seliger-Swenson, who completed her eligibility last year as one of the best setters in Gophers history. Miller recorded 693 assists in 72 sets for the Bruins last season.

The Gophers' top five hitters in 2018 — Stephanie Samedy (3.49 kills per set), Alexis Hart (3.02), Adanna Rollins (2.59), Regan Pittman (2.58) and Taylor Morgan (2.42) — all return, and coach Hugh McCutcheon said they are making adjustments as the Gophers prepare to move on from the Seliger-Swenson era.

"Our hitters are doing much better at getting to the ball and being able to hit the ball with range," McCutcheon said. "They don't need a perfect set to be a good hitter. There's a cumulative compensation across the board."

Key regular-season dates

Friday-Saturday: Big Ten/ACC Challenge in Chapel Hill, N.C. (5:30 p.m. Friday vs. North Carolina, 2:30 p.m. Saturday vs. Florida State)

Sept. 7: Home opener vs. Florida

Sept. 27: Big Ten opener vs. Indiana

Nov. 23: Final regular-season home match (vs. Iowa)

Nov. 30: End of regular season (at Penn State)


The Big Ten Network has nine Gophers league matches on its broadcast schedule. Wednesday's 7 p.m. match at No. 4 Texas will be shown on FS1, and the Nov. 3 match at Purdue will air on ESPN2.