Star setter is already a UCLA grad

Gophers junior setter Stephanie Nucci plays against Wisconsin Sunday at the Sports Pavilion.

Joe Michaud-Scorza

Gophers junior setter Stephanie Nucci plays against Wisconsin Sunday at the Sports Pavilion.

Lindsay Guentzel

Stephanie Nucci may be one of the newest members of the Gophers volleyball team, but when it comes to being a college student, sheâÄôs no rookie.

The setter is already a college graduate, receiving a sociology degree from UCLA in three years while playing for the nationally-ranked Bruins.

Coming in as a redshirt freshman, Nucci never thought about graduating early. She didnâÄôt have any incoming credits and was enjoying her time playing under former UCLA head coach Andy Banachowski.

But after a successful session of summer classes, NucciâÄôs advisor encouraged her to consider graduating early because of the coursework she had completed.

âÄúI was like, âÄòWhy not?âÄôâÄù she said. âÄúI have two more years left to play, why not take advantage of the eligibility?âÄù

ThatâÄôs how Nucci found herself moving to the Midwest to play for the 20th-ranked Gophers.

âÄúI was recruited by [Minnesota] the first time around and I never really thought about venturing out to the Big Ten,âÄù Nucci said. âÄúI always knew I wanted to go to the Pac-10.âÄù

Pursuing a masterâÄôs degree in sports management, Nucci is one of just ten Minnesota varsity athletes enrolled in graduate school, and one of three volleyball players to do so in the Big Ten.

âÄúThe second time around with things, you know what you want and donâÄôt want,âÄù Nucci said. âÄúHonestly, [Minnesota] really just had it all.âÄù

Nucci was connected to the Gophers program even before she put on maroon and gold this fall. Her aunt played under head coach Mike Hebert at Illinois, while associate head coach Scott Swanson was a friend of Nucci and her family during his time coaching at Arizona State.

âÄúIt really wasnâÄôt the connection that made me think about [coming to Minnesota],âÄù Nucci said. âÄúI wanted to experience a different kind of volleyball. You donâÄôt have this everywhere.âÄù

She added: âÄúThe tradition here is so amazing, itâÄôs definitely different than anything IâÄôve experienced.âÄù

Still, sheâÄôs no stranger to top-level volleyball âÄî playing in the competitive Pac-10 set her up to be an immediate contributor.

She notched 29 assists and nine digs in MinnesotaâÄôs 3-1 win over Wisconsin on Sunday, and leads the team with 508 assists.

âÄúI have been around the block,âÄù she said. âÄúIt really gave me a lot of knowledge in different situations and IâÄôve really used that to my advantage.âÄù

While sheâÄôs played a crucial role on the court, the example sheâÄôs set may be even more important.

âÄúSheâÄôs a real role model for our players, to see someone whoâÄôs got the academic thing tacked down and who uses her time wisely,âÄù head coach Mike Hebert said. âÄú[Her transferring] worked out pretty well.âÄù