Gopher volleyball celebrating new air conditioning

The University of Minnesota volleyball team had a much different feeling when it stepped out onto the court for the start of fall practices.

They weren't dripping sweat before they started to pass, set or spike. Maturi Pavilion went through significant upgrades in the offseason, which included the installation of a $1.1 million air conditioning system.

It's a welcome change as the Gophers routinely fill Maturi Pavilion for matches. They're 63-3 on their home court over the last four years.

"It's nice not to dread coming in here because of the heat, you want to get in here because it's so pleasant. Words that haven't been used to describe the Pav in August ever," Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon said.

Gophers senior outside hitter Alexis Hart can already feel the change during practices, which are about  a week in.

"For me, like I sweat a lot, the most on the team. For me, I only go through two shirts instead of four so it's a lot nicer," Hart said.

The team loves the cooler atmosphere, and it's showing in early workouts. McCutcheon said the quality of training sessions has been exceptional because they don't have to worry about over-working athletes, sweat on the floor, risking injury and monitoring workload.

"You come in here and you have a sweater on, you're kind of actually cold for once. It's not walk out and you start sweating, so it's pretty nice," junior Stephanie Sameday said.

The air conditioning was part of a $5.1 million project that included upgrades to strength and conditioning, athletic medicine and team locker rooms.

McCutcheon is entering his eighth season with the Gophers and is leading one of the more dominant programs in college volleyball. He's 189-47 in seven full seasons, including 108-32 in Big Ten play. The Gophers enter the 2019 season ranked No. 3 in the country, behind Stanford and Nebraska.

Minnesota won the Big Ten title last year, finishing 19-1 in league play. The Gophers' season ended with a 27-4 record after losing to Oregon in the NCAA Sweet 16.

McCutcheon isn't viewing the way 2018 ended as a disappointment.

"I think when you get to the Sweet 16, there are really good teams playing volleyball, sometimes you're going to lose one. For us to be focused on that match to me doesn't make any sense. It stings, of course, but it would've stung more not to make the tournament," McCutcheon said. "It would've stung more to lose in the first round. It would've stung more to not win the Big Ten. There's still lots of things that were going on that were pretty good. It didn't feel like it was broken."

For the players, falling short of the Final Four last year is serving as early motivation.

"I think us as returners, we kind of just know how bad that kind of stung. Understanding how every point is important kind of thing. So we kind of have that to fuel us as well," Sameday said. "The fact that we know we want to get better as a team, we also have that fueling us."

Minnesota returns six starters from last year's team, including Sameday, a First-Team All-American, and Second-Team All-American Regan Pittman. The Gophers also added UCLA transfer Kylie Miller, and Southern Idaho transfer Airi Miyabe.

The Gophers will get tested early in the non-conference schedule. They travel to North Carolina and Florida State in their opening weekend, and then head to No. 4-ranked Texas on Sept. 4. The early schedule is what makes fall camp so important, there's no time to ease into things when the matches start.

Minnesota also has a big match for its home opener, hosting No. 7-ranked Florida on Sept. 7.

"The preseason thing, you kind of go from zero to 60. For us, our preseason matches are a big part of our RPI equation so we have to hit the ground running weekend one," McCutcheon said. "There's no kind of warm up to compete. You've got to go, so today and two and a half weeks really is what we get."