The Gophers volleyball team is headed to the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth-consecutive season, but two true freshmen have made their presence felt all season.
Libero C.C. McGraw and outside hitter Adanna Rollins both enrolled at the University last Spring semester and mutually agree that it has helped their growth and the team's success.
“I think [coming early] is just a huge advantage,” McGraw said.
With an extra semester to learn Minnesota's style, both Rollins and McGraw said they don't feel like true freshmen at times. And their statistics show just that.
McGraw finished the season 10th in the Big Ten with 410 digs. Rollins finished third on the team in kills, assists and digs.
Their performances earned them selections to the Big Ten All-Freshman team. Rollins was also named 2nd Team All-Big Ten and the North All-Region Freshman of the Year by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
Teammate and opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy, who also had success as a freshman last season, said that to succeed early players need to have a certain type of mindset.
“They really just wanted to develop and change how they play their game and they’ve done that at a good level,” Samedy said.
On top of the post-season conference recognition both players were recognized as Big Ten Freshman of the Week throughout the regular season. Rollins received the honor four times and McGraw earned it twice.
From a coaching perspective, head coach Hugh McCutcheon said it takes a lot as a freshman to adjust, and there are a lot of players with talent, but lack other aspects that limit their success.
“I don’t think talent's particularly a rare thing, but there are very few that have the talent and then have the work ethic, and then the competitive maturity,” McCutcheon said. When all of those things are managed properly and executed, he says that is when you see success out of such young players.
While the awards are nice, the freshmen only have one thing on their mind.
“It’s an honor, but it’s not really our goal,” McGraw said. “All that’s on our mind is the championship.”
With the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in the books, Rollins said they prepared after their successful season at Maturi Pavillion.
“It doesn’t feel different because we’re at home. It still feels like we’re playing in the Big Ten,” Rollins said.
As the volleyball season is coming into the last two weeks of the season, both players are in disbelief at their first year success.
“It’s really unreal ... our team is so good. The seniors have helped us so much, and so has [McCutcheon],” Rollins said.
The Gophers return to action Friday to take on Oregon, which is one of three teams to beat them this season.