U volleyball adds Oregon transfer who was Minnesota prep star

A natural, necessary fit in the spring transfer portal window is bringing Kate Thibault back home after she announced on Instagram that she will play for the Gophers volleyball team this season.

Thibault, who played for Watertown-Mayer, was considered the best libero prospect in Minnesota for the Class of 2023 and spent her freshman season at Oregon playing sparingly behind Georgia Murphy, an honorable mention All-America.

Her arrival at the U will provide immediate relief at a position of need. The Gophers are coming off a resurgent spring filled with optimism, but there have been signs that the roster might be slightly thin in a few areas.

For instance, when they played Illinois on April 20, the Gophers were down starting libero Zeynep Palabiyik and backup Skylar Gray, so Lauren Crowl — the 6-4 redshirt junior opposite coming off major surgery — suited up as the defensive specialist.

The Gophers won that exhibition match with Crowl showing what makes her such a dynamic teammate but, still, some back row help from the spring transfer portal window seemed necessary.

In Thibault they get a few things. The former Watertown-Mayer standout is an instinctive, energetic libero who the Star Tribune named first team All-Metro in 2022 as arguably the best defensive player in the state.

She also has deep connections with several current Gophers. She played club volleyball for Minnesota Select with redshirt freshman Sydney Schnichels and true freshmen Stella and Olivia Swenson — that group was electric in 2022 when they placed second at nationals for 17s.

Last year at Oregon she had 79 digs over 59 sets and also was strong as a serve specialist, ranking second on the team in aces per set. The Ducks reached the Elite Eight last season before falling in four sets to Wisconsin.

The Gophers leave next week for a 12-day trip overseas that will see them play matches in Turkey, Italy and Slovenia.