Gophers rolling after down 2014 season

Minnesota has the 2015 coach, player and freshman of the year in the Big Ten.

Outside hitter Daly Santana strikes the ball against Penn State in the Sports Pavilion on Saturday, Nov. 14.

Joe Sulik, Daily File Photo

Outside hitter Daly Santana strikes the ball against Penn State in the Sports Pavilion on Saturday, Nov. 14.

Emily Polglaze

The Gophers gathered with season ticket holders, family and friends in the Williams Arena club room on Sunday and saw a standout regular season rewarded.
 
The team was fixated on the television, watching a college basketball game before the NCAA selection show. The anxious Gophers, outfitted in new “Big Ten Champions” apparel, saw the final seconds of the game tick away before tournament seedings were finally announced. 
 
Minnesota, which started the season unranked, received the No. 2 overall seed in the country. It was the highest seed in program history, and the room erupted with excitement. 
 
“It’s awesome,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon said Sunday. “For these athletes to have this experience and this level of return for their investment relative to the amount of work they put in, it’s really special.” 
 
The announcement came a year after Minnesota missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 1998 season and ended the season with a 9-11 record in conference play.
 
The Gophers got a boost in the spring, though, when freshman setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson graduated high school early and 
started training with the team. The rookie immediately got a feel for what the Gophers’ plans were for the season to come. 
 
“From the second I got here, I could see that the team had the mindset to improve from last season,” Seliger-Swenson said. “I think that’s what we really worked hard to do.”
Senior captain Daly Santana said she’s seen the team this year communicate better with one another. 
 
Minnesota was picked to finish fifth in the Big Ten in the preseason coaches’ poll but exceeded expectations by finishing first in the conference for just the second time in program history. The Gophers’ 18-2 conference record is the best ever at Minnesota. 
 
The Gophers began the season unranked in the American Volleyball Coaches’ Association poll, but eventually climbed to No. 3 in the country the week of Nov. 16.
 
The team was also No. 1 in the NCAA RPI rankings for two weeks.
 
Many members of the team earned Big Ten honors the day after the selection show on Monday
 
McCutcheon was named the Big Ten coach of the year, while Santana was named the conference’s player of the year. Seliger-Swenson was also honored as the Big Ten’s freshman of the year and was selected for the All-Freshman Team.
 
The awards were the first time a Minnesota player was named Big Ten player of the year since 2003 and freshman of the year since 1993.
 
Santana, Seliger-Swenson and junior middle blocker Hannah Tapp were all named to the All-Big Ten team. Santana and Tapp were unanimous selections.
 
Awards have already come in, but the team is determined to earn more through the NCAA tournament. 
 
“We’ve thought about the things we can do, but those things aren’t possible if we don’t take it one game at a time,” Santana said. “It always goes back to that mentality.”