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Gophers’ grit shows in wins without McGraw

After the libero left the match Friday at Purdue, Minnesota continued to show its talent and toughness on the volleyball court.
Image by Shannon Doyle
Opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy spikes the ball to earn a point for the Gophers in Maturi Pavilion on Sunday, Jan. 24. The Gophers won against Michigan State Spartans with a score of 3-0.

Despite winning two hard-fought battles against Purdue last weekend, the Minnesota volleyball team suffered a blow to its roster, losing C.C. McGraw during Friday night’s match due to an undisclosed injury.

After the match on Saturday, head coach Hugh McCutcheon did not give much detail about the libero’s status and said she would be considered day to day. Thankfully for the Gophers, McGraw practiced with the team Tuesday and appears to be making strides toward playing this weekend.

Playing without McGraw for the final two sets Friday and the whole match Saturday illuminated an important characteristic about this Gophers squad: Not only is the team flush with talent, but they are also a gritty team able to overcome challenges, according to McCutcheon, and it showed when they took down the Boilermakers.

“It was big time. You never learn to sail the ocean by dinking around in the harbor — you’ve got to get into some trouble at some point and see what happens,” McCutcheon said.

Minnesota still has players like opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy, who won both the Big Ten and AVCA National Player of the Week honors, and Melani Shaffmaster, the Big Ten Setter of the Week, who can take over sets for the Gophers. Samedy finished with a career-high 28 kills and added 26 digs in a dominant performance Friday night, notching 20 more kills Saturday.

“[Samedy has] had some really special performances, and maybe what felt pretty special about this one is that it felt pretty stark standard,” McCutcheon said. “That’s how she’s been in practice. … her game has really elevated over the past year.”

Other players moved around to different positions to adjust to McGraw’s absence. Sophomore Rachel Kilkelly took over the libero duties, while freshman Jenna Wenaas jumped into the lineup in the back row for her first significant playing time of the season. While there might not have been as many of the one-handed, point-saving digs that McGraw seems to pull out of nowhere, many Gophers stepped up defensively to clinch two victories against a top-15 opponent.

“Hugh says it often that it really is a team effort, and I have confidence in every one of my teammates that they can come in and step up to get the job done,” Samedy said. “It’s really cool to see players take on different roles and help the team out.”

With or without McGraw in the lineup this weekend, Minnesota will need some stellar play again as the competition does not get any easier. The Gophers’ stretch of playing a ranked opponent continues this Saturday and Sunday at home against conference rival Penn State. While Maturi Pavilion would usually house loud Gophers fans celebrating a “Point U” or a block party in a normal year, the team is just happy to play volleyball and wants to continue bringing its own energy during fanless matches.

“We’re excited to play because we [actually] get to play. And for a long part of the year, we didn’t even know if we’d have that opportunity. … We’ll take what we can get,” McCutcheon said.

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