Shaffmaster adds depth, promising future to Gophers volleyball

The freshman setter is making an impact early on for a deep Minnesota team looking to make it back to the Final Four.

The Gopher celebrate a sweep over Indiana at Maturi Pavilion on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018.

Jack Rodgers

The Gopher celebrate a sweep over Indiana at Maturi Pavilion on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018.

Brendan O'Brien

With COVID-19 delaying the Big Ten volleyball season, it took a little longer than expected to see what setter Melani Shaffmaster could do on the court for the Gophers volleyball team.

Now that the season is underway, Gophers fans finally get to see the freshman in action. Shaffmaster is one player who adds to the depth of successful players on Minnesota’s team. Along with Taylor Landfair and Jenna Wenaas, she is a part of the country’s top-ranked recruiting class. Paired with an experienced roster that made the Final Four in 2019, it appears Shaffmaster and the Gophers will have a successful 2021 season.

After winning the Indiana state championship three times and being named the Gatorade Player of the Year twice in Indiana, Shaffmaster enrolled early at Minnesota in January of 2020. She trained with the Gophers for a little more than a month before the pandemic shut down team activities. Then, Shaffmaster said it was challenging to do much training on her own as a player whose specialty is setting up her teammates to score. But she did not let the delayed start to her collegiate career discourage her and took the experience as a positive when the team regrouped.

“I’m upset we didn’t get to play in the fall, but I was a little happy we got a couple more months of training to get used to playing volleyball here,” Shaffmaster said. “Getting to set these hitters as much as you can before you actually start playing really helped me, and playing against each other in practice is super intense.”

Two weeks into the season, it appears she is prepared for the high-level competition this season has to offer. Shaffmaster admitted she still gets nervous before matches, but her play in the opening weekend against Michigan State earned her Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors. Playing in every set thus far, Shaffmaster leads the team with 99 assists and has added 31 digs on the defensive side.

What ultimately drew Shaffmaster from high school and club volleyball in Indiana to collegiate volleyball in the Twin Cities was Hugh McCutcheon and the Gophers coaching staff’s culture. After learning under McCutcheon and being around the team for a year, she is excited about her future at Minnesota.

“They are just really good at teaching. It’s a really strong learning environment and is a huge process of people learning and getting better,” Shaffmaster said of the coaching staff. “I’ve been really open to learning and completely changing the way I play volleyball and doing what they need me to do to be the best setter.”

In the meantime, Shaffmaster said she wants to ease her nerves as the season goes on and create more energy as the Gophers play in empty pavilions due to COVID-19. She will play her first collegiate game in her home state as Minnesota is back in action against Purdue on Friday and Saturday.