Gophers volleyball hosts St. Thomas in historic first

The University of St. Thomas just recently became a Division I school this season and faces No. 11 Minnesota in its biggest match of the year to date.

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Kamaan Richards

The Gophers huddle to celebrate defeating Oral Roberts three sets to none at the Maturi Pavilion on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.

AJ Condon

On Thursday, Sept. 16, the Gophers and Tommies will face off in the Diet Coke Classic in a match that will feature the first ever Division I competition between the two schools. Minnesota won’t be an easy opponent for the struggling St.Thomas team, but it’s sure to be a historic match.

“I think it’s great, it may keep some more Minnesota athletes home, certainly gives them more opportunities,” Gophers head coach Hugh McCutcheon said, regarding there being another Division I team in Minnesota. “This is an instance where more is more.”

The Gophers haven’t had the easiest start of the season, facing five top-15 ranked opponents in their first six matches. However, after the Gophers started out 1-3, they swept a weekend series of two top-15 wins and look to be back on track.

“I think they were really important for us on a lot of levels,” McCutcheon said. “First in terms of competitive maturity, we [started] off with some tough, close losses and here we were able to close it out, a match against a really good Stanford team, and get into trouble against Oregon and figure out a way to get out of trouble.”

McCutcheon added that the start to the season was very important to the team’s development, especially the comeback win against Oregon.

“It was nice to see our team respond in the way that they responded and figure out a way to get the W,” he said.

The Tommies haven’t gotten off to the best start in their first Division I season, holding a 1-7 record in their first eight games.

St. Thomas is being led by standout freshman Lauren Galvin who leads the team with 99 kills on the season. The East Ridge High School alum also is second on the team in hit percentage attacking at a .208 clip. On top of that, she leads the team with 13 service aces, for comparison, the service aces leader on the Gophers has nine.

The Tommies have another freshman leading the way in Libby Mattila, who is second on the team in kills with 40. Mattila, who hails from Plymouth, Minn., leads the team in hit percentage at .223.

The Tommies have a handful of talented Minnesotans up and down their roster, and Gophers junior Ellie Husemann is happy to see former opponents on the other side of the net living out their dream of playing at the Division I level.

“It’s definitely super cool knowing that I’ll look across the net, we all will, and see girls I played high school against,” Husemann said. “All in all, it’s a really cool experience.”

The biggest disadvantage for the Tommies comes in the height difference between the two teams.

St. Thomas has just three players listed as 6-foot and over, with its tallest player coming in at 6-foot-1, whereas Minnesota has ten with its two tallest players coming in at 6-foot-5.

One of those over-6-foot players is redshirt senior Stephanie Samedy, who has been a huge part of the Gophers’ success. The 6-foot-2 opposite hitter has a team-high 125 kills on the season to go along with .276 hit percentage. Samedy remained humble when asked about her stat line this season, crediting her success thus far to her teammates.

“Having my teammates push me, they’re taking shots away, they’re blocking me and pushing me to get better everyday,” Samedy said.

Sophomore setter Melani Shaffmaster has also been a very important piece to this team. She has been a part of 84.2% of assists so far this season to go along with a team-high nine service aces.

The match Thursday night is sure to be one to remember as the two teams will face each other for the first time in both program’s history. Even with the historic air surrounding the match up, the Gophers will go into it like any other match, and take the lessons learned from their tough non-conference matches this season with them.

In regards to the tough schedule the Gophers have faced thus far, Samedy said she and the Gophers are looking to take the lessons learned into the rest of the season.

“I think continuing to build from yesterday’s practice and today’s practice and the lessons we’ve learned from the [past] weekend and all the weekends,” Samedy said. “I think just being able to apply those in the game and be consistent [tomorrow].”