Column: Sophomore volleyball trio shows promise

by David Nelson

When the Gophers said goodbye to Ashley Wittman and Tori Dixon at the end of last season, Minnesota volleyball lost arguably two of the best players in the program’s history.

Dixon left the Gophers as their all-time leader in hitting percentage at .369, and Wittman ranks sixth in kills with 1,778.

Beyond the gaudy numbers both athletes put up, Wittman and Dixon provided leadership, experience and composure when the Gophers needed it most.

Replacing that sort of presence on the court will be a tall task for the Gophers as they continue into their season.

But if last weekend’s opening matches were any indication of what’s to come, sophomores Sarah Wilhite, Paige Tapp and Hannah Tapp will step up to help fill the void.

Out of the three players listed, Hannah Tapp played the most last season, seeing 119 sets for the Gophers in 35 matches.

She made the most of her opportunities as a freshman. Despite playing six sets fewer than her teammate Dixon, Hannah Tapp had only nine fewer total blocks.

Her sister, Paige Tapp, however, saw much less action, playing in only 21 sets last season.

But Paige Tapp didn’t let her lack of experience have an impact on her performance during the team’s opening weekend.

In the first two matches of the season, Paige Tapp tallied 13 kills and nine blocks.

Though Minnesota can rely on both Tapps to replace Dixon’s production, the pressure is much higher on Wilhite to replace Wittman’s.

But Wilhite can handle the pressure. Her high school career more than proves her ability to lead a team.

As a junior in high school, Wilhite led Eden Prairie High School to its first state championship. She was the team captain twice in her high school career and was voted the team’s MVP in three seasons.

While certainly there’s a difference between high school and college volleyball, Wilhite’s 25-kill, 19-dig performance last Saturday proves that she’s ready for the spotlight again.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The trio’s recent performance doesn’t mean much if they can’t sustain it.

Though I’m not ignorant enough to say the season rests on the shoulders of three players — volleyball is a true team sport — I am saying that Minnesota will need those three to mature quickly in order to keep the Gophers competitive in 2014.

However, based on their past performances and the stats they’ve posted already this year, Minnesota is in good hands with the sophomore trio.