Minnesota volleyball team ranked #5 in the country

Minnesota, which finished its season 26-11 after falling to USC in the national semifinals, is ranked No. 5 in the USA Today/CSTV Top 25 Preseason Coaches Poll. It is the highest preseason selection in school history. Minnesota, which finished fourth in last year's season-ending poll, earned one of 65 first-place votes. Minnesota is one of four Big Ten teams in the poll, second among all conferences behind the Pac-10, led by defending national champion and top-ranked USC, which placed six teams.

Penn State, the defending Big Ten champion, is ranked No. 8, while Illinois and Wisconsin are ranked No. 19 and No. 23, respectively. Three additional conference teams – Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State – received votes outside of the Top 25 as well.

Despite the departure of Cassie Busse, the 2003 Big Ten Player of the Year, the Golden Gophers return six starters from a team that earned its first trip to the national semifinals in school history. Senior setter Lindsey Taatjes and junior libero Paula Gentil, the conference's Defensive Player of the Year the past two seasons, will lead the Gophers when they open up the season for all Big Ten teams at the NACWAA Tournament in Colorado Springs, Colo., on August 27. If Minnesota gets past first-round opponent No. 11 Colorado State, the Gophers could square off in a rematch against USC in the championship match.

Defending conference champion Penn State returns five starters from its team that finished 31-5 overall and 17-3 in the League last year. The Nittany Lions, who fell to Florida in the Regional Finals in 2003, are led by sophomore middle hitter Cassy Salyer, who earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors last year.

Throughout the course of the 2003 campaign, eight of the 11 conference teams were either ranked or received votes. A total of seven Big Ten squads earned bids to the NCAA Championship last year, which led all conferences.

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