Four-year veteran finds gratification as role model

There are approximately 100 African American and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. In an occasional series throughout the 2018-19 school and sports year, the MSR will highlight many of these players. This week we profile two players at opposite ends of the collegiate-play spectrum: Gopher senior volleyball player Kayla Buford, and Gopher freshman soccer player Patricia Ward.

Kayla Buford in action Courtesy of U of M Athletics

Kayla Buford thus far has appeared in 10 matches in her Gopher volleyball career. She recorded her first collegiate kill last fall, and earlier this month made her first career start, playing all three sets in a 3-0 win over Georgia Southern and recording six kills.

Whenever a player achieves success, especially as a prep, one naturally expects that to continue in college as well. Although Buford, the squad’s only Black four-year player, doesn’t see much court time, she does nevertheless have consecutive Final Four runs and a Big Ten championship on her resume.

According to Coach Hugh McCutcheon, Buford’s contributions as a role model as well as her overall experience can’t be understated or overlooked. “You don’t have to be the fiercest player on the court, but you have to be consistent in action relative to the value on this team,” McCutcheon said of the 6’-2” middle blocker. “Although she is not out there on every play,” Buford is “a selfless teammate,” he stressed.

Buford, a Canton, Mich. native, was the Gopher game-day program cover story for the annual preseason classic Minnesota hosts on Labor Day weekend, the same time she earned her first start. When asked if she knew beforehand, the senior said she learned her starting assignment just prior to the match.

“It was fun,” she noted. The middle blocker added that for the most part, she kept her emotions in check: “You train so hard and work so hard…[to not be] nervous and [over]confident.”

She is part of Minnesota’s “deep” 18-player roster, six of whom are Black. Soph Stephanie Samedy leads the Gophers with 114 kills, including a game-high 13 kills in last Saturday’s 3-0 home win over Maryland to improve to 2-0 in Big Ten play. Redshirt junior Taylor Morgan is 10th in the nation in blocks per set, averaging 1.52 per set. Freshman Adanna Rollins had her first career double-double in last Wednesday’s straight-set win over Penn State in front of a sold-out crowd at Maturi Pavilion.

Kayla Buford Photo by Charles Hallman

“Everyone comes in with the same goal and same mindset — we all just try to be better,” Buford observed. “There is so much more for us to achieve, so much we can be. We are a good group of girls and a good group of players. I want to see good things for us.”

Buford originally planned to study fashion merchandising but soon learned that her business courses and her volleyball obligations might conflict. Eventually, she switched her focus to sports management and marketing as her major.

“As I went through college, I realized that I love sports, and no matter what, I always want sports to be part of my life, whether I’m a player or I’m working behind the scenes.”

The senior this past spring interned with the Minneapolis Final Four Organizing Committee. “You see so many grueling hours go into it… It made me so much more appreciative of what goes on” in the planning of the annual championship event that will be in downtown Minneapolis next March. “Every day was not the same, which was good.”

As a four-year veteran, Buford hopes to do what previous four-year players did for her – be an encouraging source for her teammates. “Something someone told me is not to take this opportunity for granted, which is so true,” she advised. Yes, practices are tedious and repetitious, “but I have people here that care about you both as a person and a player.”