Minnesota volleyball has been around since 1972, and we have been covering it regularly since 1987. The fifty-second college volleyball season begins August 25, as the Gophers host TCU at Maturi Pavilion.
It also begins the Keegan Cook era, as the former Washington Huskies coach for the past eight years is now coaching at Minnesota. At his former school, he led the Huskies to eight NCAAs, six Sweet 16s, four Elite Eights and one Final Four volleyball championship.
Now, Cook is looking to extend his success here in Minnesota, where the team hasn’t missed the postseason since 2014, reached the Final Four six times (the last in 2019), and won three Big Ten titles (the last in 2018). Fans of team have made Maturi one of the loudest arenas in college volleyball; they are used to greatness.
“We know what our aspirations are in terms of competing in the Big Ten, and in the [NCAA] tournament,” Cook told me during a short sit-down interview at the team’s August 7 media day. Even before the recent announcement that the 14-school conference will once again expand by two more teams, making it 18 teams in 2024, the Big Ten was one of America’s toughest volleyball leagues. Minnesota is third in the 2023 Big Ten volleyball preseason poll and one of five schools in the top 25 nationally—Wisconsin (2), Nebraska (tied for 5th), the Gophers (7) and Penn State (8) are in the top 10.
“Everyone’s ready to go,” said the first-year Gopher HC.
Redshirt Junior Taylor Landfair, the 2022 Big Ten Player of the Year and two-time All-American and first-team All-Big Ten, leads the top players returning for 2023. The 6’5” outside hitter is one of four Black players on this fall’s roster.
Phoebe Awoleye, a first-team all-league player at Loyola Marymount last season, is a senior transfer at middle blocker. She and freshman Calissa Minatee, also a middle blocker, are among six newcomers on the Gophers this season.
The 6’2” Awoleye plans to major in management information systems at Minnesota. “What I want to do,” she told the MSR, “I want to work in sports in the future. What better way to get into sports, to play for a school like this and represent a school like this.”
“I want my journey to Minnesota to improve me holistically,” admitted the 6’1” Minatee, who graduated early from high school and enrolled at Minnesota for spring semester. Her degree plans include studying architecture.
Asked what makes the two first-year Gophers good volleyball players, Awoleye explained, “I’m very passionate about what I do. I may not be the best volleyball player in the world, [but] when I’m on the court and competing, I think I get very amped up.”
“I’ve always noticed that when it comes to situations, especially on the court, and even in the classroom,” added Minatee, “I’ll make the people around me [better]. It’s my ability to influence my teammates.”
“We’ve got some new athletes joining us from the spring that should be pretty impactful,” said Cook. “There’s just a great sense of optimism and excitement.”
Minnesota’s 2023 schedule includes 11 teams ranked in last year’s final top-25, as well as all eight non-conference opponents that played in the 2022 NCAA tournament.
“I’m really excited for the season,” said Awoleye. “I know it’s going to be a fun one.”