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Gophers volleyball commits build community before taking the court

The ‘24 and ‘25 Gophers volleyball commits had the chance to meet each other and establish a sense of camaraderie before taking the court as full-time Gophers.
Image by Amaya Battle
Head coach Keegan Cook (center) giving the Gophers volleyball team pointers during a break in play on Oct. 15, 2023.

Stella and Olivia Swenson, out of Wayzata High School, were some of the loudest fans in the stands when the Gophers defeated Northwestern on Oct. 15. The twins will cheer from a different location at Maturi Pavilion in under a year.

The Swenson sisters verbally committed to the Gophers team last year. Sitting alongside them were verbal commits from the 2025 class Jordan Taylor, Carly Gilk, McKenna Garr and Kelly Kinney and the top recruit from the 2025 class, Abigail Mullen, who has yet to commit to a school.

Taylor, a 6-foot-5-inch middle blocker out of Houston, Texas, attended the game as part of her official visit and loved every minute of meeting the team, other recruits and getting the full Minnesota experience.

“I honestly feel like I’ve never been in an environment with so many people that were just there to support the girls,” Taylor said. “[Maturi Pavilion] is one of a kind.”

Stella took it upon herself to reach out to Taylor and offer her support as she finished her final two seasons of high school volleyball, something a now-alumna, Rachel Kilkelly, did for her.

“She just texted me on Instagram one day and was like, ‘If you ever need anything let me know,’” Taylor said.

The Swenson sisters helped lead the Wayzata Trojans to two MSHL state volleyball titles and an undefeated 2023 regular season. Much of their volleyball success stems from their familial ties to the game.

Olivia said her mother, who played for Iowa State, and older sister Samantha Seliger-Swenson, a former Gopher, would teach her and Stella how to play in their backyard when the two were little.

“Being around the sport so much, we kind of knew what we were doing,” Olivia said.

Gophers head coach Keegan Cook said he knows the recruits who come to him have a wealth of volleyball experience behind them, so he looks at what recruits have ahead of them and how they respond to adversity.

Stella said one of the benefits of having her sister on the court with her is knowing Olivia will push her to be her best.

“If I don’t go for a ball, she’ll probably roast me and vice versa,” Stella said.

The reliability between the twins is a connection they have built since birth. The two have relied on each other their entire lives, according to Olivia, and said their dynamic on the court is “unstoppable and unbeatable.”

One of the first conversations Cook has with recruits involves their family and learning about them as people off the court. 

“I ask a lot of different people about the recruit and if everyone says the same thing about them, that’s a good sign,” Cook said.

For some recruits, like Taylor, who live out of state, transitioning to an entirely different climate can be difficult.

Cook said he tries to show athletes how big of a program they are joining in terms of “the people, the city and what they could represent.”

“You’re supposed to leave home and you’re supposed to make a home is what this time in life is all about,” Cook said. 

Taylor said she talked with Stella before committing and then had the chance to meet the other 2025 commits and explore the campus on her official visit.

“It kind of reminded me of a place somebody would put in a movie,” Taylor said. “It was just so scenic everywhere.”

Since the Swenson sisters both attend school just 20 miles away from the Gophers home court, the two are familiar with Minnesota’s volleyball community and played with some of the current athletes while competing for Northern Lights Volleyball.

Stella said she and Olivia played against current true freshman for the Gophers Calissa Minatee in club volleyball and were teammates with Sydney Schnichels at Northern Lights.

Before the Swenson sisters wear the maroon and gold, the two will look to defend their team’s state title as they begin their postseason run for the 2023 MSHL title.

Meanwhile, Taylor, Gilk, Garr and Kinney will finish out their final two seasons of high school volleyball before joining the Swenson sisters in the fall of 2025.

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