Too often overshadowed by football, college volleyball’s post-season now is in full swing.
No. 12 Minnesota (22-8, 15-5 Big Ten) this weekend is in its 19th NCAA Regional Semifinals in program history, and in its eighth under Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon. They will play No. 5 Baylor Thursday, Dec. 9 in Madison, Wisc.
Some doubted early on whether Minnesota would make this postseason field after a 3-3 start this fall as McCutcheon assembled one of the toughest non-conference slates in Gopher history, playing five top-25 teams and 14 ranked opponents overall, along with the always-tough Big Ten schedule, to best prepare his squad for December play.
“The expectations around this program are extremely high,” admitted McCutcheon to reporters, including the MSR, last Saturday after Minnesota’s 3-0 first-ever sweep of Stanford in the NCAA second round at Maturi Pavilion. “The preseason is tough. We’re better now.”
Minnesota and Stanford had the most Black players (three) among the four-team field last weekend. Iowa State had two and South Dakota zero.
The Cardinal-Gopher match last Saturday featured two sistahs as starters: Pac-12 Freshman of the Year 6’-0” setter Kami Miner, and two-time Big Ten Player of the Year Stephanie Samedy, the first Black player to win the award in Gopher history.
Miner had 31 assists and seven digs against Minnesota, and 52 assists in Stanford’s four-set win over Iowa State Dec. 3. She told the MSR, “My teammates have been so supportive… I’ve learned so much this year, and I think that I’m still learning. There definitely has been a really big learning curve” from high school and club to collegiate volleyball.
She led the conference with 11.42 assists per set, good for eighth nationally, and posted a team-best nine double-doubles. The first-year setter also was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week four times this season.
But Miner quickly pointed out when asked about her season honors, “I really didn’t think about it much. I’m just trying to stay in the moment with my team and not worry about the accolades,” she said.
What hasn’t been said about the 6’-2” Samedy, who led Minnesota with 16 kills in the victory over Stanford, and had 13 in the team’s 3-0 sweep over South Dakota last Friday? “I don’t know what her favorite color is,” said a smiling McCutcheon on his star opposite hitter.
It is expected that the redshirt senior, in her 5th and final collegiate season, will surpass 2,000 career kills (she’s now at 1,998) to become the fourth Gopher ever to reach the two-thousand kills’ mark.
“She’s just so so special,” continued McCutcheon on Samedy, who broke all types of records during her time in Minnesota. “It’s just been such a joy to coach her.”
Said Samedy after Saturday’s win, her 143rd career match, tops in program history: “It means a lot to play at The Pav and in the tournament. It’s awesome to continue to grow as a team.” She has a psychology degree, is attending graduate school, and hopes to play internationally this coming spring.
Freshman outside hitter Natalie Glenn appeared in her first NCAA match, getting a key dig in set three against South Dakota.
“She’s a really calm competitor,” said McCutcheon of the 5’-10” Glenn. “Her ability to step in like she did tonight and fill the space and help us out—it’s great.”
“Just being on the sidelines is very nerve-wracking,” said Glenn, “but being able to go onto the court and play in front of these amazing fans—just awesome.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.