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Tampa native Christine Tan leads Minnesota's run to NCAA women's volleyball Final Four in her hometown

Christine Tan, who starred at Palm Harbor University, was the 2008 Big Ten defensive player of the year at Minnesota.

University of Minnesota

Christine Tan, who starred at Palm Harbor University, was the 2008 Big Ten defensive player of the year at Minnesota.

TAMPA — Christine Tan is fiery and demonstrative during matches, so she surprised folks with her reaction moments after Minnesota clinched a spot in the NCAA women's volleyball national semifinals.

While the rest of her teammates danced and whooped it up Saturday evening, the former Palm Harbor University star cried.

"She doesn't show it very often," Minnesota coach Mike Hebert said Wednesday after his team's practice at the St. Pete Times Forum, "but she has that side."

Being a big part of getting Minnesota (28-8) into tonight's semifinal against Texas (28-1) at the Times Forum meant that much to Tan.

"I had a little breakdown," said the senior defensive specialist, whose position is called libero. "It's always a goal to go to the Final Four, and to actually reach that goal was something really special for me."

Especially coming home for the first NCAA volleyball championship in Florida, let alone in her hometown, and especially because she hasn't forgotten that some programs told her she was too small, at 5 feet 4, to excel in the big time.

• • •

Tan grew up around the game and not initially by choice. Her mother, Ivonne, played indoor volleyball at the University of Puerto Rico, and she and her husband, Felix, played outdoors together. "They used to drag me to the beaches in Clearwater," Christine said, laughing.

But she soon fell in love with the sport and began to emulate the play of her mom, who was able to be an outside hitter despite her lack of height.

"She always prided herself on her defense and talked about how much fun it was to play defense," said Tan, who said she's about the same height as her mother.

Like mother, like daughter. By the time she joined the renowned Tampa Bay Juniors club program, Tan displayed the same pride and passion for stopping shots.

"She's a remarkable defensive player," club coach Randy Dagostino said. "She just has great instincts for the game and can read plays extremely well, and because of that, she's able to anticipate so well and make plays that most people can't make."

The libero, a position distinguished by a different jersey and added to the indoor game about a decade ago to promote longer rallies, sets the tone for the defense. Just as important, the better the libero controls the ball with her dig, the more effective her team's resulting attack can be.

It's tailor-made for someone with Tan's skills, fearlessness and confidence, as is Hebert's emphasis on defense and passing.

"One of the main reasons I went to Minnesota was because of that defensive tradition," said Tan, 22, who is majoring in biology and physiology. "I wanted to be a part of that."

• • •

Tan is a three-year starter, was the Big Ten defensive player of the year as a junior, is second in school history in digs (1,916) and has three of the program's top eight all-time best seasonal averages for digs.

"I don't look at her as a libero," said Russ Rose, coach of defending national champion Penn State, which plays Hawaii in tonight's other semifinal. "I look at her as a great player."

Tan showed why in last weekend's region final against Florida State. With her team up 20-14 in the fourth set, Tan had three of her 24 digs during one electrifying rally that culminated in a Minnesota point that killed the Seminoles' confidence.

"If you hit hard and that ball doesn't go down, and you're used to that, and it's coming back over, you're thinking, 'My gosh, what do I have to do now to put it down?' " FSU coach Chris Poole said.

Minnesota closed out the set and the match moments later.

"I liked attacking — I did that in high school — but that's something I can't physically do in college at this level of volleyball," Tan said. "But there's still a position for me, and I can be successful in it."

Very successful. And who wouldn't get misty-eyed thinking about that?

.Fast Facts

NCAA volleyball championships

When: Tonight's semifinals: Texas (28-1) vs. Minnesota (28-8), 7; Penn State (36-0) vs. Hawaii (32-2), 9.
Saturday, final, 8 p.m.

Where: St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa


Tickets: Tournament pass, $60; individual semifinal and final sessions, $30 each; (813) 301-2500, Times Forum box office,

Fan Fest: 4-6:30 p.m. today,
5-7:30 p.m. Saturday,
Times Forum Plaza

Prep All-America game:
1 p.m. Sunday, Times Forum; admission $7.25

Tampa native Christine Tan leads Minnesota's run to NCAA women's volleyball Final Four in her hometown 12/16/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 16, 2009 10:43pm]
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