Grad transfer Atherton adds depth, experience at setter for Gophers volleyball

Atherton played at Nebraska and University of North Carolina as an undergrad and will pursue a master’s degree in sports management while at Minnesota.

Fans cheer for the blanket lady as she runs through the Maturi Pavilion on Friday, Nov. 30. The Gophers swept Bryant three sets to none as a start to their postseason.

Jack Rodgers

Fans cheer for the “blanket lady” as she runs through the Maturi Pavilion on Friday, Nov. 30. The Gophers swept Bryant three sets to none as a start to their postseason.

by Julianna Landis

In May, the Gophers’ volleyball team announced the addition of graduate transfer Hunter Atherton to its 2020 class.

Atherton may be new to the Gophers, but she has years of experience at the collegiate level. A 5-foot-10-inch setter, Atherton first played for the Nebraska Cornhuskers before transferring to the University of North Carolina following her redshirt freshman season. Atherton played in 49 matches for the Tar Heels over her two seasons, totaling over 1,300 assists and 321 digs.

As a grad transfer, Atherton will be pursuing a master’s degree in sports management, and the strength of Minnesota’s academics was part of what drew her to Minnesota over other programs.

“I knew I wasn’t done with school, and I wanted to continue my education. Minnesota really stood out to me for sports management specifically because of the size of the university and the prestige that comes with getting that degree from a school that is so strong,” Atherton said.

On top of the team’s history of success, the strong support system for student-athletes within the athletics department was another aspect that put Minnesota on top of the list. Atherton said that all the staff members involved with the volleyball program seemed like great people; after speaking to the Gophers’ staff and coaches, she felt they would best help her transition because of the genuine support they give the athletes.

A native of Prospect, Ohio, Atherton is excited to be back in Big Ten country. She grew up just an hour away from Ohio State and spent two years at Nebraska. There’s a familiarity with the conference and the level of play she will face in the maroon and gold.

“The Big Ten is always a great conference to be in — there’s a lot of support for athletics in it. … I kind of know what the Big Ten is like, I know how serious everybody takes it. So it’s something that’s kind of a familiar aspect to me,” she said.

Joining her in the fall is a stacked recruiting class that was voted No. 1 in the nation by It comprises fellow graduate transfer and middle blocker Katie Myers and four incoming freshmen in defensive specialist Cami Appiani, setter Melani Shaffmaster, outside hitter Jenna Wenaas and outside hitter Taylor Landfair, who was also voted’s top recruit of the year.

Atherton said the young players are impressive, not solely because of their athletic ability, but also because of their strong mental game. She said working with such talented hitters will be especially fun for her as a setter.

The additions of Atherton and Myers as graduate transfers gives Minnesota considerable depth. When the news of Atherton’s transfer was announced, head coach Hugh McCutcheon said in a press release he was “extremely excited” to have her on the roster, adding “she gives us more depth at the setting position and brings some great playing experience as well.”

“We are excited that she chose to continue her education at the University of Minnesota and look forward to having her join our team this year,” McCutcheon told Gopher Sports.

Clarification: A previous version of this story did not include all the members of the Gopher’s 2020 women’s volleyball class. The incoming class includes Katie Myers, Cami Appiani, Melani Shaffmaster, Jenna Wenaas, Taylor Landfair and Hunter Atherton.