Wilhite starts senior year strong

The outside hitter leads the Gophers in kills through the first four matches.

Outside hitter Sarah Wilhite prepares to serve the ball to Penn State at the Sports Pavilion on Nov. 11, 2015.

Joe Sulik, Daily File Photo

Outside hitter Sarah Wilhite prepares to serve the ball to Penn State at the Sports Pavilion on Nov. 11, 2015.

Tommy Sletten

Senior outside hitter Sarah Wilhite has been a mainstay of Minnesota’s offense for the past three years and has shown no signs of slowing down.

Wilhite was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday and helped lead the Gophers to victories over two ranked teams last weekend. She averaged 4.86 kills per set on a team-leading 34 kills.

“It’s nice to have some consistency in the position; it’s an important role she carries. It’s great to see her rise to the challenge,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “I think she exemplifies the whole idea of the work and how it pays off. The consistency and the work ethic that she brings every day and the quality of person she is are all attributes that she brings to this team.”

As a rookie, Wilhite played in 65 sets and provided 88 kills for the team. She showed massive improvement in her sophomore campaign and finished second on the team with 309 kills, behind only former Gophers standout and last year’s Big Ten Player of the Year, Daly Santana.

Wilhite missed seven matches in the beginning of her junior year due to injury but still managed to be a key player for the Gophers. She finished fourth on the team in kills for the season.

The outside hitter said she’s also seen her role change over the years from being a playmaker to a team leader with heightened responsibilities.

“I’m definitely most proud of how much I’ve grown throughout the four years,” Wilhite said. “As a senior I definitely have more responsibility on the team, partly to lead by example, show the underclassmen how it’s done … but then also taking a load on the volleyball court as well.”

Wilhite has found plenty of success in the past three seasons, but she still has many goals to accomplish personally in her last year as part of the Gophers.

The Eden Prairie native said she’s taking time to cherish the opportunity of playing for her home state and in front of the people who have supported her throughout her career so far.

“[It’s] a great school, a great programand being able to say I come from Minnesota is just special,” Wilhite said. “Also, the fan base has been consistent, and it’s nice knowing people stand by us and are proud of what we do and how we work.”

The Gophers had a storybook season last year that took them all the way to the Final Four, and Wilhite said she hopes the team can produce a similar showing in her final season.

“We have an ultimate goal to end the season as National Champions and just leaving the season with no regrets,” Wilhite said. “I want to look back on this year and know that we did all that we could. Even if we come up short, we know that we did all that we could.”