It was a busy Labor Day weekend for the Only One. We began a new four-part series. We also watched U-M Opposite Hitter Stephanie Samedy in action, one of six newcomers on this year’s Gopher volleyball team. The 6-2 freshman from Florida led the squad with 43 total kills in three home wins last weekend and was named the four-team tournament’s most valuable player.
The honor comes on the heels of Samedy being named Co-Big Ten Player of the Week and Co-Freshman of the Week after her first week in collegiate competition — a team-high 31 kills in a pair of wins in the August 25-26 Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
“She’s got character on the court [and] character off the court,” said Gopher Coach Hugh McCutcheon about Samedy at the August 29 media day.
“I believe in myself. I go out and play volleyball, and if it works out, it works out,” Samedy told reporters before her sit-down interview with the MSR.
Samedy admitted that speaking to the media is “something I have to get used to.” She seemed to become more comfortable as we talked less about her on-court honors, a main topic by the reporters.
The Clermont, Florida native said she wanted to go to school away from the Sunshine State. “I knew I wanted to experience something different from Florida,” continued Samedy. “I wanted to see what the world has to offer.”
And Samedy’s “new world” is Minnesota: “Early in the recruiting process, the phone calls [from Minnesota] always were consistent. They were always genuine — some coaches’ [calls] are fluff. Then I came for my official [visit], and it was still the same. They mean what they say,” she recalled.
Minnesota is a top-10 volleyball programs in the nation, coming off back-to-back Final Four appearances. Teamwork ranks high on McCutcheon’s list.
“It is truly about the team,” assessed the coach on the 2017 squad. “We have a lot to learn but it is a good start.” And Samedy, stressed McCutcheon, might be the best of this year’s freshmen group: “She represents as good as anyone we have had here,” he told me.
Recruiting is one thing — the real thing after the recruit arrives is something else. “Now that I’m here,” continued Samedy, “I actually get to see that this is who we are as a team and a program.” Conversely, like her coach earlier pointed out, Samedy’s the real thing off the court as well. She graduated suma cum laude from her high school, a four-year honor roll member.
Education then sports is the rule on her parents’ priority list. “Grades always first. I care about my schoolwork. Education is important to me, and volleyball also is important to me. I want to learn on the court and off the court,” says Samedy. “Making sure we get the good grades is a big part of our family. Do what we have to do — you don’t get good grades, you can’t play volleyball.”
“I am the type of person. I’m not a perfectionist, but I really do take pride in what I do. I try to do the best I can in everything I do. That’s what my parents taught me — to do something all the way.
“I personally felt I had to get good grades for myself; I don’t like to half [step],” she said
Finally, the soft-spoken but confident Samedy is taking all this attention in stride. “I’ve enjoyed my time here so far,” she concluded. “I am excited to see what’s in store, what we can do (as a team) and how far we can go.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.