The 2019 volleyball season is officially underway, and freshman defensive specialist Rachel Kilkelly has proven herself an important part of the Gophers' rotation.
It didn't take long before Kilkelly was able to make a name for herself in Minnesota. In her first-ever collegiate match against North Carolina, she showed her effectiveness on the court. Kilkelly recorded nine digs and added a pair of aces to help Minnesota take the match in straight sets and start the season off with a win.
"I think since I have the opportunity to play right now, I just want to do what I can to help the team, no matter what it is," Kilkelly said. "It's been really fun. I just want to help the team and do whatever I can to be successful."
Six games in, Kilkelly has been just that, successful. She's been key to the rotation, having played in every set at this point in the season. She's shown strength at the service line and has played excellently on defense. Her impressive performances to date make it difficult to believe that until their first match, Kilkelly was unaware of the prominent role she'd play in the Gophers' rotation.
"I actually had no idea that was going to happen. They told me right before our first game, the day of. I really had no idea that I was going to [be a significant part of the rotation] because we have so much talent on this team," she said.
Her impressive performance in the first match was followed by three straight matches where she finished with double-digit digs. Over that stretch, Kilkelly recorded 37 digs, three assists and an ace, earning the praise of her head coach, Hugh McCutcheon.
"I've been really impressed with her performance," he said. "Really steady, seems to be in control a lot and of course playing really well too. We're certainly excited with the way she's performed."
It's come full circle for the Shakopee High School graduate, who grew up watching the Gophers. She's now an important part of the team's rotation, contributing every time she steps on the court.
"I remember last year I would look onto the court and be like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm going to be a part of that next year,'" she said. "And to actually be a part of it, it's super fun because I've been in the stands watching my whole life, and I actually got to be on the court playing. It was just fun, because the Pav is just a good atmosphere in here. There were so many people, it was really cool."
As a member of the team she grew up watching, Kilkelly is where she wants to be.
"Having this volleyball program and academic opportunity here that's close to home was the perfect fit for me," she said.