Wilhite uses talent to crack lineup

Sarah Wilhite was a decorated high school player out of Eden Prairie HS.

Minnesota freshman outside hitter Sarah Wilhite bumps the ball against Duke on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, at the Sports Pavilion.

Bridget Bennett

Minnesota freshman outside hitter Sarah Wilhite bumps the ball against Duke on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, at the Sports Pavilion.

Megan Ryan

Sarah Wilhite’s high school career was decorated, to say the least.

The Eden Prairie High School and Northern Lights Volleyball Club outside hitter was a high school All-American, Miss Volleyball, an all-state and all-metro team member, and to top it all off she was named Minnesota’s 2011 Gatorade Player of the Year.

But Wilhite, a freshman, has had to start her college career with the Gophers with a somewhat clean slate.

“It’s just a whole new level, I think,” Wilhite said. “It’s all the best people coming together on a team. It’s like 10 times higher in level than I thought it was going to be.”

Wilhite has a lot of competition for any playing time at the outside hitter position and even more for starting minutes.

Senior Ashley Wittman and sophomore Daly Santana are well-established players for the Gophers, and there are four other options at outside hitter.

Wilhite has played 34 of the 42 sets this season, starting 10 of 12 matches. She is in competition with junior transfer Adrianna Nora.

In a match against Dartmouth on Saturday in which many of the starters rested, Wilhite led the team with 15 kills. Nora was hot on her heels with 14 kills. Nora averaged a better hitting percentage at .500 to Wilhite’s .333.

Wilhite said with the amount of talent on the roster, there is a constant pressure to improve in practice. She said she doesn’t mind that pressure and said knowing she’s earned her spot makes it even sweeter.

“I’ve seriously, like, loved every bit of it,” Wilhite said.

Freshman middle blocker Paige Tapp, Wilhite’s roommate, said Wilhite has adjusted well to Division I volleyball.

“When she’s on your team, she helps everyone become better,” Tapp said.

Gophers head coach Hugh McCutcheon said Wilhite has nice range and the ability to hit to many different places on the court. McCutcheon said the coaching staff needs to work with her on generating more power behind her swings.

“I would suspect it’s been a challenge [for her] to find out [she] has some inefficiencies,” he said. “And certainly at this level, everyone was pretty good in high school … so being a stud in high school isn’t enough to get it done.”