The Gophers volleyball team added four new members after officially signing their star-studded 2020 class. The class includes, No. 1 overall recruit Taylor Landfair, No. 3 overall recruit Jenna Wenaas, No. 16 overall recruit Melani Shaffmaster and top-110 recruit, Cami Appiani.
Wenaas, an outside hitter from Frisco, Texas, was initially committed to Texas A&M before deciding instead to move north to Minneapolis and commit to the Gophers in April. Wenass was sold on the University after visiting and seeing the team culture, a culture that focuses on development as "a person, not just an athlete." She also noted the fan atmosphere in Minneapolis.
"They attract so many fans and it's just a great environment that I don't think could be found other places," she said.
Wenaas registered 642 kills in her senior season, averaging 5.1 per set and hitting .355. She closed out her high school career with over 2000 kills, becoming the all-time leader at her school. Wenaas was also named an Under Armour First Team All-American.
Shaffmaster, a setter from New Castle, Indiana, committed early to the University, back when she was in eighth grade. She's had the opportunity to visit campus multiple times, coming back every year since that initial visit. Shaffmaster will join her Gophers teammates a semester early as she'll begin her studies this spring. She's excited to learn from the coaching staff, learn the nuances of collegiate volleyball and set to her Gophers teammates, especially middle blocker Regan Pittman.
"I'm probably most excited for what I'm going to learn and how much I see myself grow throughout the four years I'm here," Shaffmaster said.
Shaffmaster finished her senior season with 948 assists, 280 kills and 51 aces. She finished her high school career with nearly 4000 assists and over 1000 kills. Shaffmaster is also an Under Armour First Team All-American.
Appiani, a defensive specialist from San Diego, California, similarly to Wenaas and Shaffmaster, chose the University because of the coaching staff, the city of Minneapolis and the chance to play under the bright lights in the Big Ten conference. She's looking forward to building relationships with coaches and teammates when she comes the the University in the fall.
"The foundation that the program has is really appealing for any player because you feel like you matter, or at least what you're doing is being noticed and you're growing as a person too rather than just a volleyball player," Appiani said. "The whole environment you get being in a school like this, which is both the Big Ten, the city and the people is incredible."
Appiani recorded 180 digs, 75 aces and 24 assists in her senior season. She was just two shy of 100 aces for her high school career and finished with 270 digs.
Landfair, an outside hitter from Plainfield, Illinois, started getting recruited in seventh grade. Her mom helped her through the process, and not wanting Landfair to become overconfident so young, she didn't let her read her letters or hear from coaches until her freshman year. After visiting a few Big Ten schools, she landed on Minnesota, having met a lot of the players who answered her questions about campus, volleyball and the coaching staff.
The team told her the coaches make an effort to know you as a person and coach in a way that you'll respond to. That sold her on Minnesota. They also answered her questions on graduating early, as Landfair will also arrive at the University a semester early where she'll be roommates with Staffmaster.
"I really love the team culture and the whole entire environment of the program, and it's really something I want to be a part of," Landfair said. "The coaches really are into forming a relationship with you and I'm really excited to be able to form relationships with my coaches."
Landfair finished her senior season with 336 kills, averaging 5.8 per set and hitting .338. She broke the 1000 kill mark for her high school career, won Gatorade Player of the Year in her junior season and was recently named an Under Armour First Team All-American.
Each of the four newest members of the team cited the Gophers' team culture as what sold them on Minnesota, something head coach Hugh McCutcheon says is conveyed by the program's consistency.
"I think it's probably just the consistency of how illustrated across, not just the discussion a coach might have, but from a trainer to a strength coach to the athlete's themselves," McCutcheon said. "The fact that it's consistent across all people."