It's hard to be one of the best players on one of the best teams in the nation. It should be almost impossible for an underclassman.
Yet halfway through her sophomore year, opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy has carried over momentum from her promising freshman campaign and productive off-season to establish herself as one of Minnesota's premier players.
Samedy was named first team All-American as a freshman, something that no Minnesota volleyball player had done before her. She was also unanimously named to the All-Big Ten and Freshman All-Big Ten teams after the season.
This year, the Gophers have held strong as the No. 3 team in the nation. Minnesota has been on a tear lately, winning 11 straight games thanks in part to Samedy's 121 kills and 101 digs during the streak. The Gophers haven't lost a game in nearly two months and have won every conference game this season, with wins over ranked opponents such as Penn State, Illinois, Wisconsin and Nebraska.
She also earned a spot on the U.S. Women’s Collegiate National Team as the team traveled to China in May. When Samedy heard that she made the team, her response was simple.
“I was just like, 'Woah, that’s pretty awesome,'” Samedy said.
This wasn't the first time the opposite hitter had gotten the chance to represent her country. She competed in 2016 at the NORCECA Women’s U20 Continental Championship and was a part of the Youth National Team.
This time, however, Samedy said she learned the importance of being a well-rounded player.
“It kind of taught me the importance of being an all-around player and being able to play with anyone,” Samedy said. “Making sure I have the techniques I need in order to be able to compete with anyone.”
The USWCT traveled to China for a five-match tour over a 10-day span. The team finished with a 4-1 record and Samedy was a major contributor.
Samedy dominated by leading the team with 18 points in the first match against Shanghai Bright Ubest, a Chinese professional team.
In back-to-back matches against Zhejiang, another professional team, Samedy led the team in scoring both matches. In the third match, she led the team to victory with 15 points.
In the final two matches, Samedy didn’t lead the team in scoring but she still had solid outings with eight points in each match.
“She was the starting opposite on that team and carried a big load for them,” Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “[Samedy] was very successful internationally.”
Halfway through her second year at Minnesota, Samedy is continuing her dominance while keeping her sights set on improving.
“I think she’s raised her base level of play significantly,” McCutcheon said. “She’s very gifted obviously and a good volleyball player.”
So far this season, the Florida native has led the team in points seven times. Her most dominating performance so far was during Minnesota's opening weekend against North Carolina, where she had 22 points off of 20 kills and 10 digs.
Even when Samedy is not leading the offensive charge for the Gophers, she isn’t far behind. She has been a top three scorer in 10 of the other games she played this season.
“You can always count on her to do her job and you know that she’s always going to bring energy and have your back,” said defensive specialist Lauren Barnes.
Despite her successes, Samedy is only focused on reaching her potential.
“I came in with the intentions of working hard, trying to get better and just doing what I need to in order to become a better player,” Samedy said.
McCutcheon expects to see more from Samedy before her time as a Gopher is over.
“I really still feel that Stephanie’s best is yet to come,” McCutcheon said.