Samantha Seliger-Swenson was a sophomore at Hopkins High School when she verbally committed to a volleyball scholarship at Minnesota. It was also at that point when she decided to hit the accelerator on her class load in order to graduate in December 2014 as a high school senior.
“I had heard about Ashley Wittman doing that, and that it worked out very well for her,’’ Seliger-Swenson said. “So, I wanted to give myself that option.’’
Wittman was an outstanding Gophers hitter and a second-team All-America by her senior season in 2013. Seliger-Swenson will be picking up some honors herself as a Gopher, if Friday night’s overall excellence remains the norm against Big Ten competition.
The Gophers had gone from unrated when the season started in late August to a No. 4 national ranking with a 19-3 overall record and first-place 11-1 in the Big Ten entering this weekend’s home matches — Friday vs. Michigan State and Saturday vs. Michigan.
The Gophers handled Michigan State in three sets, 25-21, 25-13, 25-21. The Spartans tried to be difficult in the first set, but the combination of Daly Santana, the senior hitter, and Seliger-Swenson, the freshman setter, hooked up too many times to allow serious upset thoughts for the visitors.
Santana has a tremendous fastball as an outside hitter. Seliger-Swenson was able to feed Daly in rhythm repeatedly for those blasts.
When the sweep was concluded, Santana had 16 kills and Seliger-Swenson had 34 assists, 11 digs and four blocks. If it was basketball and you enjoyed horrible clichés, you would say that she filled up the boxscore.
One of the finer things to happen to coach Hugh McCutcheon’s fourth Gophers team was Seliger-Swenson’s decision to enroll early. Samantha might have been a freshman when she arrived on campus last January, but she’s not playing like one with seven Big Ten matches remaining in her first collegiate season.
Seliger-Swenson said that at the time she made the decision to become an early college enrollee, she had no idea that it would get her a trip to Japan.
The Gophers had started the 2014 season ranked 12th in the nation. They wound up eighth in the Big Ten and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998.
The NCAA allows college teams to make foreign trips during the offseason once every four years. McCutcheon scheduled his first as the Gophers’ head coach to Japan, last March. This provided the Gophers with a team-building boost after the flop of the 2014 season, and also a chance for the veteran Gophers to meld with Seliger-Swenson as the quarterback of the attack.
“I thought enrolling early was a great opportunity for Sam to get used to college life,’’ McCutcheon said.
The coach paused and said: “Obviously, it also gave her a head start on developing a rhythm with her hitters.’’
Santana and Seliger-Swenson came into the Sports Pavilion’s media room after the match. “Do you want to do the interview together?’’ someone asked.
Santana stepped closer to her freshman feeder of quick, easy-to-hit sets and said, “Together. Always.’’
Asked about the advantage of having Seliger-Swenson around last spring, Santana said: “I think it helped a lot. It’s not always easy to get used to a new setter.’’
Santana isn’t the tallest of hitters, at 6-1. Her advantage is strength and quickness.
“Daly likes to play fast, and we wanted to have her play that way,’’ McCutcheon said. “We weren’t able to do that to full advantage in the past. Sam gives Daly a chance to attack that way by being able to give Daly the ball in rhythm.’’
Samantha’s mother, Vicki Swenson, was her coach at Hopkins. Thus, she was learning the ways of being a volleyball quarterback from an early age.
There is some freedom in not having Mom as a coach, though. Samantha was asked if she ever has swallowed the gum that she’s working on during matches.
“No … I wasn’t allowed to chew gum in high school,’’ Samantha said. “The first college match my mom watched here, she said, ‘Oh, no, she’s chewing gum.’
“A friend was sitting next to my mom and said, ‘Oh, leave her alone.’ So, she hasn’t bothered me about the gum.’’