For the first time in 11 seasons, the Minnesota women’s volleyball team will take to the court under a new head coach.
Keegan Cook, who replaced Hugh McCutcheon in December, is preparing the team for their first serve in August. Cook has added promising new talent to the squad and expects a national championship.
“That’s what I was hired to do and I’m not going to shy away from those expectations,” Cook said in a press conference on Monday.
When McCutcheon announced he would be stepping down, it came as a surprise given his success as a head coach.
“This is the second time I’ve been part of a different kind of transition where things have been going well and there is a great responsibility to maintain and exceed the performance from before,” Cook said.
Cook had previously replaced Jim McLaughlin at the University of Washington after McLaughlin served as head coach from 2001-2014. During that span, McLaughlin produced a national championship title, four Final Four appearances, three national players of the year and three Pac-12 conference titles.
“There is a lot of meaning in Minnesota volleyball,” Cook said. “This program means a lot, not just regionally, but nationally and that responsibility connected with me.”
Throughout Cook’s eight seasons at Washington, the Huskies held a record of 198-56 and a 74% winning percentage, the seventh-best among all coaches in Pac-12 history. More recently, Cook was named president of the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) in January.
Already, players are noticing the difference in Cook’s coaching style versus McCutcheon’s.
Outside hitter Mckenna Wucherer enters her second year on the team having played her first season under McCutcheon and the spring season under Cook.
“Hugh’s practices were a lot more relaxed and kind of like – just focused on breaking down every single skill,” Wucherer said in the Monday press conference. “Keegan is more like breaking down the skill and then applying it right away.”
Wucherer said she loved the opportunity to play for both Cook and McCutcheon and described them both as “legendary coaches.”
The legendary behavior is what the Gophers need after losing prominent players such as CC McGraw, Carter Booth, Jenna Wenaas, Rachel Kilkelly, Ellie Husemann and Naya Gros.
Cook brought in three new transfers, one of them being Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Kylie Murr.
“I wanted to stay in the Big Ten,” Murr said at the press conference. “Minnesota is a really good program historically and it just felt right.”
Murr left her Ohio State team after scholarship complications arose due to the extra year of eligibility COVID-19 provided.
Murr, however, is not completely unfamiliar with the Minnesota team. She and fourth-year Melani Shaffmaster played volleyball together as kids at Munciana Volleyball Club in Indiana.
Murr said she selected Minnesota to compete, but having Shaffmaster as a teammate again was a bonus.
“To have that friendship and someone you’re comfortable playing with was a big factor,” Murr said.
Confident, outgoing and energetic are all terms that describe Murr’s style of play on the court.
“Not everybody is willing to go get hit by a ball coming at you,” Murr said. “You got to have heart.”
Cook’s expectations and the competitive nature of Big Ten volleyball pair well with Murr’s combative energy on the court.
The Gophers’ non-conference schedule consists of teams that all played in the 2022 NCAA Tournament, including defending national champion Texas.
“There is nothing I dislike about [the schedule],” Murr said. “I think having that tough preseason is going to get us ready for the first game of the Big Ten.”
The team has been working hard in their open gym and the chemistry is beginning to build amongst each other as the screams of excitement can be heard through the walls.
“Our transfers are – wow,” Wucherer said. “We’ve just grown into a huge family.”
The Gophers will play on Aug. 18 against Northern Iowa in an exhibition match before returning to Maturi Pavilion for the regular season on Aug. 25