Five former Gophers volleyball players earn spot on U.S. National team roster

Paige Tapp, Hannah Tapp and Sarah Wilhite all made the roster after finishing their collegiate careers in 2016.

Senior Paige Tapp spikes the ball on Saturday Oct. 29, 2016 in the Sports Pavilion.

Chris Dang

Senior Paige Tapp spikes the ball on Saturday Oct. 29, 2016 in the Sports Pavilion.

by Drew Cove

The game didn’t end for the most recent graduates of the Gophers volleyball program.

Team USA is starting prep for the Olympics next summer, and there is a Minnesota connection on the team.

Five Gophers athletes earned spots on the U.S. national volleyball team roster.

“This summer I’ve had an amazing experience with the women’s national team,” said former Gophers middle blocker Paige Tapp. “That’s really setting me up for a pro career to come.”

Tapp joins her sister, Hannah, and Sarah Wilhite on the team, representing last season’s senior class on the U.S. roster. The trio helped Minnesota finish 29-5 and tie for second in the Big Ten a season ago.

The three join two other Minnesota graduates, Lauren Gibbemeyer, who graduated in 2011, and Tori Dixon, who graduated in 2014.

The Minnesota presence makes up 15 percent of athletes currently on the roster.

Now, away from their pro teams, these former Gophers athletes are competing in China in the Federation Internationale de Volleyball Grand Prix.

The team’s first match is against Russia on July 7, and the team will play against other teams from around the world this month.

“We’re really looking forward to the competition,” said former Gophers outside hitter Sarah Wilhite. “There’s a lot of great teams we’re playing.”

Many players are coming from colleges around the country to compete together, an aspect different from the college game.

“The new thing that’s cool is that we’re playing alongside people that we played against in college,” Wilhite said. “It’s fun to be able to come together and be teammates.”

Where they came from

The volleyball program at Minnesota put five players on the USA national team roster.

“I think once you leave college, they just expect you to score points,” Tapp said, adding there is far less guidance in a pro context.

Tapp said the game is more hands off in the professional leagues than at Minnesota, where the game was taught thoroughly and prepared her for pro situations.

Head coach Hugh McCutcheon is in his sixth year with the Gophers after stints with the men’s and women’s U.S. national teams.

“[McCutcheon will] check in every few weeks,” Tapp said. “Just to see how we are, if we need any help, we can send film his way, if I have any questions about agents, or professional teams … he’s always there.”

McCutcheon and the three most recent graduates of the program took the volleyball team to the Final Four in two consecutive seasons, 2015 and 2016.

“The more big matches you play in, the more you can learn from them,” McCutcheon said. “I think our last graduating class got to learn a lot over the four years they were here.”