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Minnesota Volleyball: 2019 Team Preview

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After failing to reach the hometown Final Four last season, this year’s edition of the Gopher volleyball team will be looking for a little redemption led by six returning starters.

Gopher Athletics

While the core of the starting lineup will remain the same there was plenty of roster turnover for Hugh’s Gophers leading into this season. All-American setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson has graduated and a handful of bench players and key rotation player have transferred out of the program. To counter the losses four freshmen were signed and two transfers brought in.

In this preview, we’ll look at the roster and projected starting lineup. Check back Thursday for a breakdown of the schedule, the rest of the Big Ten, AVCA poll, and rundown of National Championship contenders; the Gophers were ranked No. 3 in the preseason poll released last week.

Departures

DS Sophie Beckley- Graduation

S Samantha Seliger-Swenson Graduation

MB Kayla Buford- Graduation

DS Lauren Barnes- Transferred to Wisconsin

OH Jasmyn Martin- Transferred to Florida State (indoor)

S Sara Nielsen- Transferred to Kansas

OH Alice Zeimann- Transferred to Florida State (beach)

MB Rebecca Rendahl- Transferred to Fresno State

MB Paulina Swider- ?????

The most glaring departure is the loss of Seliger-Swenson. Seliger-Swenson was tremendous at running the fast-paced Gopher offense and could make in-system sets off passes that pulled her off the net. She also was a threat from the service line.

The unforeseen loss though was Barnes joining the rival Badgers. Barnes claims her departure was not because she was beat out by CC McGraw for the libero jersey. In some ways that holds up as she joins perhaps an even more formidable backcourt contingent in Madison. As with Seliger-Swenson, Barnes was one the Gopher’s top servers.

As for the rest of the transfers they’re likely pursuing opportunities where they may get to see more action as last year’s team only saw eight players see regular action.

Returners

Pin Hitters

6’1 Jr. OH Claire Sheehan

6’2 Jr. RS Stephanie Samedy

6’0 Sr. OH Alexis Hart

6’0 So. OH Adanna Rollins

Middle Blockers

6’0 Sr. MB Taylor Morgan

6’5 Jr. MB Regan Pittman

Setter

5’9 So. S Bayley McMenimen

Defensive Specialists

5’9 So. L CC McGraw

5’8 Sr. DS Lauren Litzau

*Returning Starters are bolded

For most of the returners their roles are pretty much set. There is a chance for Litzau to crack the rotation passing for Hart. Otherwise, there may be competition for one of the outside hitter positions with transfer Airi Miyabe should Rollins or Hart struggle.

New Additions

6’5 Fr. MB/RS Shea Rubright- Yakima, WA- Incoming freshman

5’9 Fr. DS Rachel Kilkelly- Shakopee, MN- Incoming freshman

6’4 Fr. MB Ellie Husemann- Eagan, MN- Incoming freshman

5’8 Fr. S Tamara Dolonga- Varazdin, Croatia- Incoming freshman

5’11 Sr. S Kylie Miller- Rancho Cucamonga, CA, UCLA- Incoming transfer

6’0 Jr. OH Airi Miyabe- Osaka, Japan, College of Southern Idaho- Incoming transfer

In order to address their most pressing need, setter, Hugh and the staff brought in a transfer to bridge the gap between Seliger-Swenson and class of 2020 recruit 6’4 setter Melani Shaffmaster. Miller was used differently in each of her three seasons in Westwood; in a 6-2 offense her freshman year, sparingly the next season, and in a 5-1 as the starting setter last season. She was a heralded recruit coming out of high school, eleventh in her class, and a finalist for California’s Gatorade Player of the Year.

Miyabe will reinforce the Gopher’s depth at the pins and backcourt. Miyabe led College of Southern Idaho to the NJCAA championships twice, winning it this past season. For her efforts, she was recognized as the Player of the Year by the NJCAA and AVCA. During last season’s campaign, she averaged 4.28 kills per set and 2.86 digs per set while hitting .302. She also has been competing and training with the Japanese National Team in the lead-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Another need for the Gophers is passers. Incoming freshman Kilkelly could be called on to help fill the gap left in the rotation by the departure of Barnes.

Husemann and Rubright will likely see limited action as there also is the possibility of a redshirt.

Projected Lineup

OH 1- Hart

OH 2- Rollins

MB- Taylor

MB- Pittman

RS- Samedy

S- Miller

L- McGraw

Key Reserves: Miyabe and Kilkelly

How successful the Gophers will be this season will have a lot to do with Miller. The chemistry she develops with her hitters and how quickly that comes together will be a big factor in whether they defend their Big Ten title and whether the senior class gets back to a Final Four. Miyabe could also be a difference-makers a passer and or hitter. While Hugh typically doesn’t change the lineup mid-match Miyabe makes the lineup a little more fluid as he can plug her in wherever necessary. Don’t be surprised if she does crack the starting lineup.