Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019


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U Volleyball Following Golden Script


It looks almost predestined for the Golden Gophers volleyball team to win the 2018 national championship.

Minnesota’s path in the NCAA Tournament begins tomorrow night at home in Maturi Pavilion. If the Gophers keep on winning they can land at Target Center next month in the Final Four, never having left Minneapolis.

The Gophers are the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament after winning the Big Ten regular season championship. At times during the season Minnesota was ranked No. 1 nationally in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, and now are at No. 2.

Earlier this month Minnesota head coach Hugh McCutcheon was honored with induction into the International Volleyball Hall of Fame. McCutcheon coached the U.S. men’s volleyball team to the 2008 Olympic gold medal. He directed the American women to the 2012 Olympic silver medal. At Minnesota he won the 2015 Big Ten title and twice has led teams to the Final Four.

Clearly this is a storybook season so far for McCutcheon and the Gophers, and the final chapter to their story could have a very happy ending. But what friends know about McCutcheon is that no matter how this narrative ends, the coach will keep it all in perspective and try to use the results as a learning experience for himself and his players.

McCutcheon photo courtesy of Minnesota athletic communications.

McCutcheon is a coach’s coach. Others in the coaching profession, regardless of sport, seek his counsel. Understanding process, temperament and relationships are common threads in all sports. McCutcheon goes about his business in a personable and engaged manner but you sense he is always under control, and calculating a next thought or move.

Asked this week what the Gophers will do next year without one of their stars, McCutcheon said, “We’ll miss her, but we’re going to keep playing volleyball.”

Former Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi hired McCutcheon and describes him as a very special coach. Maturi told Sports Headliners that McCutcheon not only knows what needs to be accomplished but makes the necessary adjustments. With him the Xs and Os of the sport don’t block out relating to his players and getting the best out of them. “He does it better than anybody I’ve been around,” Maturi said.

In an email Maturi reflected on McCutcheon’s use of process: “He has the ability to get his athletes to focus on the process rather than the score as well as any coach I know. No emotion over a mistake or good point. It is about the next point.

“As you heard (at a McCutcheon talk), it is about relationships. Understanding each athlete and their needs, yet holding them accountable and responsible. He is special.”

The Gophers, 25-3, play Bryant, 22-12, on Friday night. If the Gophers win they will advance to the second round Saturday and compete against Friday night’s Colorado-South Carolina winner also at Maturi Pavilon. By winning out over the weekend Minnesota can keep on playing in the tournament and at the Pav December 7-8. The Final Four at Target Center is December 14 and 15.

Worth Noting

The Gophers are fourth nationally in average home volleyball attendance at 5,354 fans per match. Nebraska leads the country with an average of 8,188.

Maturi Pavilion and adjacent Williams Arena will both have air conditioning installed next year. A volleyball performance center at the Pav where players can train is also being planned.

Big games and limited time during the next seven days puts pressure on the Gopher men’s basketball coaches and players. Minnesota, 5-1, plays Oklahoma State, 4-2, in a game that doesn’t start until 9 p.m. Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium. Sunday night the Gophers open their Big Ten season against 6-0 Ohio State in Columbus. Then next Wednesday, Minnesota has a second conference game—playing Nebraska, 6-1, at Williams Arena.

If the Gophers can earn at least two wins, in March they might look back and say that stretch contributed to an NCAA Tournament invitation. To have success during the next several days Minnesota will have to improve its shooting from Monday night’s loss at Boston College. The Gophers made 19 of 65 field goals, including 5 of 30 three-point attempts.

Friday night’s game is part of the U.S. Bank Stadium Basketball Classic—a two-night trial run on the basketball configuration and logistics in the facility for next spring’s NCAA Final Four. St. Thomas and UW-River Falls meet prior to the Gophers and Cowboys in the first basketball games ever played in the facility that opened in 2016. Saturday night North Dakota State plays Drake, followed by South Dakota State and Northern Iowa.

The classic is being administered and promoted by the stadium management company, SMG, and not the University of Minnesota. Only lower level seating will be set up, with SMG targeting attendance of 12,000 to 15,000 Friday and 10,000 to 12,000 Saturday. Ads in the Star Tribune have been promoting $15 tickets.

Memphis might be a leader in the “sweepstakes” for a commitment next spring from Rochester John Marshall superstar and senior Matthew Hurt. The new Memphis staff, featuring head coach Penny Hardaway, and assistants Mike Miller and Sam Mitchell, all have impressive NBA backgrounds. They can talk to Hurt from experience about how positioned the three are to get him best prepped for a pro career.

Kirk Cousins has thrown for more yards this season than Tom Brady, his quarterback rival in Sunday’s showdown game between the Vikings and Patriots in New England. Cousins’ total is 3,289 while Brady, whose leading receiver is running back James White, is at 3,031.

Jason Williamson, the Owatonna running back and free safety who has verbally committed to the Gophers, is one of 11 finalists for the Mr. Football Award given annually to an outstanding high school senior in the state. The other candidates are Bryce Benhart, Lakeville North; Matt Cavanaugh, Edina; Alex Folz, Spring Grove; Nick McCabe, Caledonia; Cade Plath, Chanhassen; David Roddy, Breck; Luke Ryan, BOLD; Treyton Welch, Buffalo; Brandon Westberg, Cambridge-Isanti; and Cole Woodford, Redwood Valley.

The award winner will be announced December 16 at the Doubletree by Hilton Minneapolis Park Place Hotel. The Mr. Football Award is sponsored by the Minnesota Football Coaches Association and the Vikings.

Antonio Montero, last year’s Mr. Football winner from Eden Prairie, has been a starting linebacker as a true freshman at Rice this fall. He had six solo tackles in one game.

Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck has his 38th birthday today.

Stepan Falkovsky, the 6-7, 224-pound defenseman the Wild acquired last week from the Kings, is only 21 and not yet on Minnesota’s roster while he gains more lower level experience. If he were on the team now he would be the Wild’s tallest player.

Meanwhile, the Wild’s Matt Dumba is the leading goal scorer among defensemen in the NHL with 10.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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