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Ex-Gopher Lindsey Berg, family have old, new ties to Stanford

December 14, 2018

There have been more disappointments than triumphs in recent times in Minnesota sports, allowing a good share of fans to retreat to the “we’re snake-bitten’’ stance that has become familiar.

Sometimes we have a tendency to forget the championships that have blessed this sports scene. There were those four, every-odd-year WNBA titles for the Lynx from 2011 to 2017, and before that … I’m guessing you didn’t even remember our capture of this gonfalon:

The Minnesota Chill, playing in Rochester, still stand as the one and only champion of the United States Professional Volleyball League in 2002. To win this four-team league, the Chill defeated the Chicago Thunder in a five-match final series.

Lindsey Berg had completed four seasons of excellence as the Gophers’ setter in the fall of 2001, and then joined the Chill to receive her first paychecks for volleyball.

Kevin Hambly was an assistant for the Chill, and also for the U.S. national team coached by Toshi Yoshida. Hambly now coaches Stanford, which avenged its only loss of the season by demolishing Brigham Young 25-15, 25-15 and 25-18 in the Final Four semifinals Thursday night at Target Center. Erin Lindsey, Berg’s sister, is an assistant coaching setters and offense for Hambly.

“It’s quite a circle here,’’ Erin said. “If Kevin wasn’t coaching with the Chill, it’s probable Lindsey would never have gotten a look with the U.S. national team, and not have made it to the Olympics.’’

Lindsey Berg made it three times: to Athens in 2004, to Beijing in 2008 and to London in 2012.

Before we go much further, we must straighten out the Lindsey problem: Lindsey is the younger of the two volleyball-setting Berg sisters, and Erin married Harold Lindsey and they have two children, Alexis and Kanoa.

Now back to the Hambly-Berg connection for that brief time of Chill glory:

“The national team was having a tough time finding a second setter to back up Robyn [Ah Maw-Santos],’’ Erin said. “Kevin called Toshi and told him that they should take a look at Lindsey — that she was a talented setter and a great leader when on the court.’’

Lindsey Berg was invited to a tryout camp with USA Volleyball in Colorado Springs, while the national team was on a trip to Europe. She survived the tryout and joined the national team in January 2003, creating another connection:

Ah Maw and Berg are both from Honolulu. “Robyn was five years older and I watched her a lot, including in college at Hawaii,’’ Berg said. “I can’t say I wanted to become a setter like her. Actually, I wanted to be a hitter, and did both in high school, but at 5-foot-8 … setter was the only option for college.’’

Erin had decided on North Carolina and was the ACC Player of the Year in 1998.

Lindsey also looked toward the Mainland, one reason being that her father, Dennis, was a well-known youth coach in Hawaii. His best friend was Dave Shoji, the legendary coach of the University of Hawaii Wahines, creating a potential conflict of interest.

Dennis Berg and Mike Hebert, Minnesota coach, had been Cal-Santa Barbara teammates.

“My dad talked me into taking a visit to Minneapolis,’’ Berg said. “It was in the summer. Then winter came. There were a few tears on phone calls home, telling my parents that I needed a car.’’

Lindsey got her car. She survived and thrived with the Gophers. She backed up Robyn at the 2004 Olympics, shared duty with her in the silver-winning 2008 Olympics, and was the setter in the silver-winning 2012 Olympics.

Berg played five years in Europe, and the checks were larger than with the Chill. Her sister, Erin, left the business world to fulfill a desire to coach volleyball. Lindsey did it for a year and wanted to try business.

Erin was the coach at Dartmouth for five years, joined Hambly as an assistant at Illinois in 2016, and now they are in a second season with Stanford. For a time later Thursday, it appeared Illinois would be Stanford’s opponent in Saturday’s final, before the Illini gave up a two-set lead and lost to defending champ Nebraska 15-11 in the decisive fifth set.

Lindsey flew in from L.A. and Dennis from Honolulu to root for Stanford in another Berg volleyball reunion this week in Minneapolis. Asked about her livelihood in Los Angeles, Lindsey mentioned several businesses, including a gym she co-owned.

What gym? “Unbreakable Performance,’’ Lindsey Berg said. “I’m a partner with Jay Glazer and Brian Urlacher.’’

There’s proof: Win a championship with the Minnesota Chill and there’s no end to the possibilities.

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