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 their ultimate goal last season — reaching the Final Four at Target Center — they finished with a 27-4 record (19-1 Big Ten) and return their top five hitters from a roster that made the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.
The Gophers will play their first two matches on North Carolina's campus, facing the Tar Heels on Friday (5:30 p.m.) and Florida State on Saturday (2:30 p.m.). They are 9-1 all-time in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, with a 2014 loss to Louisville the only blemish.
Last year, the Gophers 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 former Gophers outside hitter Jasmyn Martin of Brooklyn Park, who transferred to Florida State after two seasons at the U. North Carolina returns 12 players from a team that went 8-19 overall and 4-14 in the ACC last season.
Ready, set, go
There are seven newcomers on the Gophers' 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.
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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."
Friday: season opener (at North Carolina, 5:30 p.m.)
Sept. 7: home opener (vs. Florida, 7 p.m.)
Sept. 27: Big Ten opener (vs. Indiana, Maturi Pavilion, 7 p.m.)
Nov. 23: final regular-season home match (vs. Iowa, 7 p.m.)
Nov. 30: end of regular season (at Penn State, 6 p.m.)
Dec. 1: NCAA tournament field is announced
The Big Ten Network has six Gophers league matches on its broadcast schedule: Purdue (Sept. 28), at Iowa (Oct. 2), at Illinois (Oct. 9), at Wisconsin (Oct. 13), at Michigan (Oct. 25) and at Michigan State (Oct. 27). Six other matches will air on BTN Plus: the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge at Penn State (Sept. 13 against Oregon, Sept. 14 against Stanford), Illinois (Oct. 19), Wisconsin (Nov. 14), Nebraska (Nov. 22) and at Penn State (Nov. 30).
Wednesday's 7 p.m. match at No. 4 Texas will be shown on FS1, and a Nov. 3 match at Purdue will air on ESPN2.
This article is written by Rachel Blount from Star Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.