C.C. McGraw leads Gophers volleyball from back row

McGraw leads the teams in digs and aces this season.

Libero CC McGraw celebrates a point at the Maturi Pavilion on Thursday, Nov. 14. The Gophers ended the night with a 3-1 loss against the Badgers.

Kamaan Richards

Libero CC McGraw celebrates a point at the Maturi Pavilion on Thursday, Nov. 14. The Gophers ended the night with a 3-1 loss against the Badgers.

Nolan O'Hara

In volleyball, libero isn’t a position that receives a lot of recognition, but C.C. McGraw doesn’t care. 

McGraw is only concerned with making plays for her teammates, and her contributions don’t go unnoticed. Through 24 matches she’s made no shortage of plays, leading her team with 335 digs and adding a team-high 20 aces. Her 4.41 digs per set ranks third in the Big Ten. Her hard work in the back row is paying dividends, as the Gophers are currently one of the best defensive teams in the conference.

The Gophers lead the Big Ten in digs per set, averaging 16.99, and they’re fourth in the conference in opposing hit percentage, limiting their opponents to a .181 hit percentage. Libero may not always see the love it deserves, but McGraw wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. 

“I just love the position because I love getting to not only start every play and be the first touch, but getting to help out my teammates. My position doesn’t get the glory, which I’m totally okay with,” she said. “I just like to be that supporter. I like hyping everyone up and helping them out.” 

McGraw has had plenty of opportunities to hype her team up this season. They notched their 20th win Saturday in a sweep over No. 23 Michigan. After the match, head coach Hugh McCutcheon praised the play of the back row defenders, on a night McGraw led the team with 16 digs. The win helped the Gophers keep pace in the arduous Big Ten conference, an increasingly impressive feat considering the adversity the team has endured throughout the season.

“Honestly, I’m just really proud of the way our team has been able to handle all this adversity, because I feel like every week we do have a different lineup out there,” McGraw said. “I think we’ve come together as a team really, really well, and we don’t overthink it.”

McGraw has been a key part of helping the team come together, leading the way from the back row and building on her success from last season that earned her a Big Ten All-Freshman selection. She started building on that success this offseason, with two trips to Japan, the first with her Gophers teammates in March and the second with the Team USA Collegiate National Team.

The two trips to Japan familiarized her with a new style of play, a style heavily focused on defense. A fast moving game got faster overseas, leading McGraw to embrace their “digging mentality,” where she’s not going to let the ball hit the floor. 

“They didn’t have height, so they had to focus on a defensive type of game,” she said. “Coming back for the second trip I tried to really implement that into my game.” 

Along with implementing a “digging mentality,” McGraw continued to do what she loves, helping out her Team USA teammates and coaches. She helped her teammates adjust to the new game and unfamiliar territory, and having played the same teams just two months before, she was the inside source for her coaches, explaining different players’ tendencies. 

“I was telling them what their shots are because I could literally remember, which is weird,” she said. 

The Team USA season may be over for now, but the Gophers season is well underway with only four matches to go and their last home stand this weekend. As the season approaches a close, there’s no question McGraw will continue to be that supporter for her team, not always getting the praise and the glory, but making crucial plays in crucial moments and doing it for her teammates. 

“I’ve never felt so loved by a team, and I’ve never loved a team so much in my career,” McGraw said. “It’s just really, really cool to be a part of it.”