Volleyball: Childhood dream no longer

Sydney Schnichels got her feet wet with the Gophers this spring and is ready to go to work in the off-season

Texas vs Minnesota
Sydney Schnichels dons the maroon and gold.
Courtesy of Brad Rempel / Gopher Athletics

MINNEAPOLIS β€” As a little girl playing volleyball in west central Minnesota, it was always Sydney Schnichels' dream to play for the University of Minnesota and don the maroon and gold.

Currently, Schnichels is in the midst of living out that dream.

The freshman took on an early enrollment at the University of Minnesota for the spring semester, which began in January.

"I've been loving it. It's definitely an adjustment from high school," Schnichels said. "It's been a really great thing for me. I'm very grateful that I came early because I've gotten to get used to school and what that looks like. That was a big change for me just with the difficulty and the amount of assignments you get. ... I think it's the best move I could have made."

With the decision to enroll early, Schnichels gained the opportunity to compete in all five of the the Gophers' exhibition matches this spring.


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"I have a lot to learn, so just getting to play at all was really nice just to get my feet wet," Schnichels said. "To have some experience and not having stepped on the court before (the fall) is really nice and makes it a lot more comforting thinking about the fall.

"To know that I'm getting better and playing at this high level with these incredible players and coaches, it's just been super enjoyable for me."

Schnichels, a 6-foot-4 outside/opposite hitter from Willmar, lived out another dream during the spring matches when the Gophers kicked off their schedule with two matches against the University of Hawaii in Manoa, where Minnesota went on to win both matches in five sets.

"It's always been my dream to go there," Schnichels said. "I can't really complain about going to Hawaii, playing some volleyball, getting some sun and doing some fun team activities. It was really cool. It was definitely one of the best trips I've ever been on. ... It was a really incredible experience."

The Gophers also competed against North Dakota State and Kansas State in their spring matches, where the team posted a 1-1 record.

Minnesota was also a host in the 2023 Athletes Unlimited Volleyball Exhibition Tour, which features a team of professional volleyball athletes traveling across the U.S. to play a series of exhibition matches against top college programs, over its spring schedule.

It is safe to say Schnichels has gotten an early taste of what Division I volleyball entails through the spring. Her early enrollment has also helped her get a grasp on what it will take to balance academics and athletics before she officially begins her freshman season in the fall.

Texas vs Minnesota
Sydney Schnichels dons the maroon and gold.
Courtesy of Brad Rempel / Gopher Athletics

"It's a completely different game at the college level," Schnichels said. "And also managing my schedule has definitely been good for me to come early because now I feel like going into the season, I know how to do things and what works for me."


Schnichels also understands the importance of her upcoming off-season work in preparation for her first season of collegiate volleyball, her being the rookie of the four opposites listed on the Gophers roster. She is joined by senior transfer Lydia Grote, redshirt sophomore Lauren Crowl and sophomore Julia Hanson.

As Schnichels approaches the completion of her first semester of college, she is unsure how many appearances she will make in the fall. But she thinks her playing time will come down to two main factors.

"The summer is going to be huge for me," Schnichels said. "What I need to do is put my head down, work as hard as I can this whole summer, get in the gym and grind day in and day out. I think it also depends on how the preseason goes.

"If I work hard and I win that spot, then I'll play. If I don't win it, then I'll be ready for my number to be called and be a supportive teammate and keep competing in practice."

Schnichels will compete under an entirely different staff than the one that recruited her when she officially begins her Gophers journey in the fall.

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Former Gophers volleyball head coach Hugh McCutcheon and his staff recruited Schnichels. But, McCutcheon β€” who was at the helm of the program for 11 years and led the program to two Big Ten titles and three trips to the NCAA Final Four β€” transitioned into a newly created role within the University of Minnesota Athletics Department. He's the Assistant Athletics Director/Sport Development Coach that began on January 1 following the conclusion of the volleyball season.

McCutcheon's departure led to Keegan Cook being named the program's eighth full-time head coach on Dec. 12 and the making of an entirely new coaching staff.

Cook, who previously served as the University of Washington head coach for eight seasons, will be joined by associate head coach Kristen Kelsay, assistant coach Eric Barber and volunteer assistant coach Kylin MuΓ±oz.


"They've been really amazing. I think my favorite thing about them is that they're not just really great volleyball coaches, they're also really great people who care about us a whole lot," Schnichels said. "It's just been really nice to get to know them and get to work with them this spring because that's not something you find in a lot of coaches at this level β€” is that they care about you as a person as much as they care about how you're doing on the court. It's been really wonderful and I'm so thankful that they're here."

Michael Lyne joined the West Central Tribune as a sports reporter in May 2022, following his graduation from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, where he graduated with a bachelors degree in journalism and a minor degree in Spanish studies.

You may reach Michael at, or by calling (320) 214-4345.
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