Diversity growing in Big Ten volleyball

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 2019-20 school and sports year, the MSR will highlight many of these players.

This week: Gopher volleyball players Alexis Hart and Adanna Rollins

Photo by Dr. Mitch Palmer Alexas Hart in action

Nearly every Big Ten team this season has at least one sistah on the opposite side of the net, including the Gophers, who have four Black players. Senior Alexis Hart, soph Adanna Rollins, junior Stephanie Samedy and senior Taylor Morgan have all been instrumental in Minnesota’s success this season. 

With the hosts trailing 2-1, the 6-0 Hart had four kills in set four that tied the match and two more in the deciding fifth set for Minnesota’s 3-2 hard-fought win over visiting Ohio State last Wednesday. She finished with 15 kills, second to Samedy’s team-high 18 kills. Jenaisya Moore, the Buckeyes’ only Black player and team leader in kills, finished with 14.

Temi Thomas-Ailara, the 6’-2” Glenwood, Ill. freshman outside hitter, is one of three players of color on the Northwestern volleyball team this season. She had 12 kills against Minnesota October 18 and has posted 19 straight double-digit kill games.

“There are so many things I have to work on,” Thomas-Ailara, the Wildcats’ leader in kills and service aces, admitted. Three times this season she was honored with the Big Ten Freshman of the Week award. 

“I think it’s cool that volleyball, in general, has diversity,” the Kansas City native noted, having seen it grow since her freshman days in 2016. “Especially in the Big Ten I can see that in four years, a lot [more] diversity on each team.”

“She was able to take some unbelievable swings,” Minnesota Coach Hugh McCutcheon said of Hart’s performance against Ohio State. “She hit some heavy balls. It was a great performance.”

“I made good decisions and took my shots,” Hart said afterwards on her follow-up performance to her team-best 20 kills in an October 25 win at Michigan.

A year ago this month Hart executed her 1,000th career kill. She is expected to come close to 1,400 before her Gopher career concludes.

“School’s great. I’m just about done,” she said proudly. She will graduate in December with a business marketing education degree. She took part in last May’s commencement event in front of family and friends as the first grandchild to graduate from college in her family.

Asked of her post-college plans, Hart said, “I’m not sure yet. I’m still figuring it out.” Possibly advertising, she pondered aloud. “I’m still looking. It’s crazy how fast [four years in college] has gone.”

Rollins says all is good

Photo by Dr. Mitch Palmer McDonald Adanna Rollins

Sophomore outside hitter Adanna Rollins was a summer road warrior of sorts. She and teammate Stephanie Samedy together competed for Team USA in the World University Games in Italy.

“It was good. I really liked it,” Rollins recalled. “It was cool being with girls from different college teams. I was the youngest on the team.”

Back this season, the six-footer from Carrollton, Texas thus far has shown none of the dreaded sophomore slump. Her first season she made the All-Big Ten Freshman team and second-team All-Big Ten, and finished third on the Gophers in kills.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” she told me. “I do feel like people know me more” after her surprising debut campaign. Her goal this season is to “add more value to my game…keeping what I had last year and amping it up a little bit.”

“I think my blocking has been my biggest point [of improvement] from last year to this year,” Rollins continued. “I got the technique down and I’m getting more blocks per game.”

Off the court, Rollins said she is doing fine as well: “I’m keeping it together. School’s good.”