Behind Big Ten Player of the Year Stephanie Samedy, Gophers ready for NCAA Tournament

Gophers outside hitter Stephanie Samedy was named the Big Ten Player of the Year for the second straight season. ((credit: University of Minnesota Athletics))

For the second straight season, University of Minnesota outside hitter Stephanie Samedy has been named the Big Ten Player of the Year.

Samedy, CC McGraw, Jenna Wenaas and Airi Miyabe were honored by the Big Ten on Wednesday after the Gophers finished the regular season 20-8, and tied for third in the league at 15-5. Samedy is the first Gopher and fourth Big Ten player ever to win the award in consecutive seasons.

Samedy and McGraw earned First Team All-Big Ten honors. Wenaas was named Second Team All-Big Ten, and Miyabe earned Minnesota’s Sportsmanship Award.

Samedy led the Big Ten and was in the top-15 in the country in points (5.39) and kills (4.84) per set. She earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors five times this season. Samedy posted career-highs this season in points, kills and digs per set (3.75). She’s third all-time in Gophers’ program history with 141 matches played, fourth all time in kills (1,969) and seventh in digs (1,502).

"I think it’s pretty cool. It’s an honor to get recognized again. I come in with my teammates and put in the work and get the feedback from my coaches, so it’s nice to be recognized," Samedy said. "I knew I wanted to come back and continue to learn from my coaches and my teammates. I feel like I’ve been able to do that, so I’m glad I came back."

It’s the eighth time in the history of the program that the Gophers have had the Big Ten Player of the Year. Five of those have come under coach Hugh McCutcheon, and they’ve come in five of the last seven seasons. Samedy joins Samantha Seliger-Swenson, Sarah Wilhite and Daly Santana.

"It’s awesome. These are more ‘we’ awards than they are ‘me awards.’ If the team is no good, it’s hard to imagine we get the player of the year. Stephanie’s performance, in particular for these two seasons, has been remarkable," McCutcheon said. "As she’s leaving us, it feels like she’s become the complete package. Good over time is tough to beat in any sport. Any athlete that can play at her level for as long as she’s done it, that’s a really special and unique characteristic."

McGraw led the Gophers and was second in the Big Ten with 4.72 digs per set. After having last season marred by injuries, McGraw was the only Gopher to play in every set this season. She led the Big Ten this season with three matches with at least 30 digs. She’s fifth in program history with 1,530 career digs, and will be back for the 2022 season.

Wenaas was second on the Gophers with 336 kills, and averaged 3.29 kills per set. She had double digits in kills in 21 of 27 matches, and had nine double-doubles.

The Gophers (20-8, 15-5) are the No. 12 overall seed for the NCAA Tournament and host a regional this weekend at Maturi Pavilion with South Dakota, Iowa State and Stanford. The Gophers will face South Dakota Friday night, after Iowa State faces Stanford. The winners advance to play at 7 p.m. Saturday.

The Gophers couldn’t be more ready for the NCAA Tournament. Half of their 28 regular season matches were against ranked teams. Nine of those 14 matches were against top-10 teams.

"Knowing what we were in for, we really wanted to try to be tested in the preseason. The lessons learned in that phase of our season set us up to go on a nice run," McCutcheon said. "There’s a lot of good in figuring out who you are early, and that maybe gives you a better chance to become who you can become by the end."

McCutcheon was reminded Thursday that he’s never lost a first or second round match in the NCAA Tournament with the Gophers.

"Why’d you say that? Come on man, don’t you know how it works? McCutcheon joked. "One of the things we know is there’s so much more depth and parity than there ever has been in college volleyball. Hopefully we can keep the streak alive, but we know we’re going to have some stiff opposition to do that."