As Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon sat between players CC McGraw and Taylor Landfair at the podium for the first Big Ten volleyball media days on Tuesday in Chicago, he took note of an evolving landscape for the sport and the conference.
In July, USC and UCLA — with their combined 21 NCAA Final Four appearances in volleyball — were accepted into the Big Ten for 2024, promising an added layer of competition to already the most competitive volleyball conference in the country.
"A really impressive decision based on all the factors that are going into this," McCutcheon said. "The TV market footprint. The quality of the academic rigor of those institutions. The quality of the sporting programs they provide. I think it's a really good fit."
That fit meshed well with Monday's announcement that the Big Ten has entered a multiyear international broadcasting partnership with Volleyball World to globally live stream more than 50 games on its website. Volleyball World is run by Federation Internationale de Volleyball or FIVB, the international governing body of the sport, and CVC Capital Partners, a private equity company.
"The idea that Big Ten volleyball in particular can be presented on this global platform on a global stage I think is really important," said McCutcheon, a New Zealand native. "I think the perception internationally is we don't have a professional league [in the United States], per se. But when you look at the [college] facilities, the investment and the crowds and the energy around our sport and this conference in particular, it rivals certainly anything that's going on in any other country."
The Gophers figure to play a big role in that energy again this year, and Landfair and McGraw will be crucial.
Both return to the team under unique circumstances. McGraw received a fifth year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 compressed 2020 season and Landfair is healthy after a serious abdominal injury caused her to miss most of last season.
And while those two are viewed as leaders, the general sense was this Gophers roster will field a unique amount of talent that could create a more amorphous lineup.
"Our freshman class and a lot of our newcomers and transfers are definitely going to add a lot of depth to our roster," McGraw said. "I think that will be a big shift for us this season. A lot of moving parts and people that can play multiple positions."
That element of moving parts had McCutcheon noncommittal when it came to predicting a depth chart for the Gophers.
"That stuff will play itself out," he said. "I can go as far as to say that it could be kind of an evolving thing over the course of the season as different players continue to grow and evolve."
An evolving landscape for the conference and the sport, combined with an evolving roster for the Gophers, makes for an exciting feeling coming off a season where the team reached the Elite Eight and finished the season ranked No. 7 in the country.
But for Landfair, that excitement is nothing compared to the feeling of getting to play a match at Maturi Pavilion with her teammates.
"Just being able to be in the atmosphere at the Pav is one of my top things," she said. "With all the fans and so much energy and excitement."
As the news conference wound down, Landfair summed up the Big Ten volleyball landscape and the anticipation of a ferocious schedule for the Gophers starting later this month.
"I can't wait for it, honestly."
The Star Tribune did not travel for this event. This article was written using video interviews.