1. The Gophers can compete with the best teams in the country
Despite losing both matches 3 sets to 1, the Gophers demonstrated that they could compete with the best teams in the country, in stretches. The Gophers were tied or ahead late in each of the 4 sets vs. #1 Texas. They jumped out to an early 14-7 lead in the first set, only to lose the set 24-26. The second set was tied at 21 until Texas pulled away with the final 4 points to win 21-25. The Gophers jumped out to a 7-2 lead in the third set and took the set 25-21. The fourth set was tied 18-18 until Texas pulled away with 5 straight points to win 25-21. The inconsistency should improve throughout the season, as sophomore starters Taylor Landfair, Melani Shaffmaster and Jenna Wenaas gain more confidence and experience against top teams. With the COVID shortened 2020-2021 season and only 2 weeks of practice before the first match in the 2021 season, there really hasn’t been a lot of time for them to learn the system and adjust to the speed of college volleyball.
2. Stephanie Samedy is a top contender for National Player of the Year
The reigning Big 10 Player of the Year proved once again that she is a top contender for National Player of the Year. Against #1 Texas, Samedy hit .236 with a team-high 21 kills, while adding 19 digs and 3 blocks. Four days later vs. #5 Florida, she hit an amazing .380, while becoming the first Gopher since Daly Santana in 2015 to record 30+ kills in a match. Samedy was solid on defense too, adding a team-high 14 digs in the match vs. Florida. The challenge for the Gophers is to manage her workload throughout the season. Samedy registered a combined 126 total attacks in the 8 sets vs. Texas and Florida. It is unlikely that a pace like that can continue throughout the rugged Big 10 schedule, which includes frequent matches on back-to-back days.
3. Second and third attacking options must step up
Stephanie Samedy was great in both matches, hitting a combined .317 on 126 total attacks. However, the rest of the team hit a combined .107 on 177 total attacks. Sophomore Outside Hitter’s Taylor Landfair and Jenna Wenaas, both of whom were Top 5 national recruits in the class of 2020, will need to deliver on the increased opportunities that they are likely to see as opponents search for ways to slow down Samedy. Landfair, who missed the game vs. Florida with an undisclosed injury, was First-Team All-Big 10 as a true freshman in 2020-2021. Wenaas, a 6-rotation player, has shown flashes of huge potential, like in the match vs. Texas where she hit .229 on 35 total attacks while adding 9 digs, 2 blocks and 2 aces.
4. The rotations for Big 10 play are still up in the air
Coach Hugh McCutcheon has mixed up his rotations in each of the 4 matches this year, including last week vs. Texas and Florida. Redshirt Senior Airi Miyabe, a former NJCAA Division 1 Player of the Year and transfer from Southern Idaho, saw her first playing time of the season vs. Florida and played in all 4 sets. She responded with 6 kills, 9 digs and a block. Natalie Glenn, a true freshman from Southland, TX, also saw more playing time vs. Florida. She delivered 5 kills, 8 digs and 2 aces. In past seasons, Coach McCutcheon has seemed to lock into the rotations once Big 10 play starts and we can expect that this will occur again in 2021.