As a lifelong Gophers fan, it took CC McGraw no time at all to decide where she wanted to play college volleyball. Once she made her commitment, though, the Prior Lake native wasn’t finished with the recruiting process.
McGraw accepted coach Hugh McCutcheon’s scholarship offer during her freshman year of high school. Then, she began persuading Adanna Rollins — a tall Texan who was also being wooed by the U — to come north and join her. Before long, they were rooming together at Gophers volleyball camps, where the two got a taste of what it would be like to play together.
“I reached out to her after I committed, and I got to know her and get comfortable with her,” McGraw said. “We got really close over social media. I wasn’t pressuring her a ton, but I wanted to create that connection early on, so she knew she would have a good friend going in.”
In their first season with the Gophers, McGraw and Rollins still are pals and roommates. But they are having even more fun in their newest joint venture, as two of the most formidable freshmen in the Big Ten.
Both have played in all 74 sets this season, helping to push the third-ranked Gophers to a 14-0 Big Ten record going into this weekend’s matches against Indiana and No. 12 Purdue at Maturi Pavilion. A libero and defensive specialist, McGraw has given the Gophers steady play in the backcourt and leads the team with 303 digs. Rollins, an outside hitter from Carrollton, Texas, has added another big arm to the Gophers offense, ranking third on the team with 191 kills while playing all six rotations.
Each finished high school early so they could enroll in college last January, giving them extra time to prepare for their rookie season. Each has adapted seamlessly, taking on major roles and thriving for a team with visions of making the Final Four at Target Center in December.
“I’m not surprised at how well they’ve done,” sophomore outside hitter Stephanie Samedy said. “They’re both great players, and I knew they were going to contribute in a lot of ways. I’m just proud as a teammate to see how much they’ve accomplished.”
That includes a near-monopoly on recent Big Ten freshman of the week honors. In the past seven weeks, Rollins has earned the honor four times, and McGraw has won it twice. Both have recorded some of the Gophers’ best individual performances this fall, including Rollins’ season-high 20 kills against Nebraska on Oct. 20 and McGraw’s 24 digs against Michigan on Oct. 27.
Rollins said McGraw didn’t have to work hard to get her to the Gophers. The two were excited at the prospect of playing together, as both of them landed on multiple All-America teams during high school. Rollins was one of three finalists for National Prep Player of the Year in 2017, while McGraw was Minnesota’s Ms. Volleyball.
Starting at the U last spring enabled them to begin adjusting to the speed of the college game and polishing their mechanics and technique. Though Rollins was occasionally in awe of her older teammates — and anticipated having only a “really small role” in her first season — she and McGraw progressed rapidly under the guidance of the upperclassmen and coaching staff.
“It was an eye-opener in the spring, when you realize how much you have to learn,” Rollins said. “But everyone on the team did a really good job of teaching us and helping us fit in.
“With the caliber of our hitters, I thought I’d probably play back row a little bit and just continue to work on my hitting, so I’d be ready if I got the chance. I was prepared to wait my turn. And then when I got the chance, I wanted to take it and go.”
Rollins made good on that, leading the Gophers in kills in six matches this season. McCutcheon said she has been “punching above her weight,” handling the pressure and complexity of a six-rotation role with remarkable calm. He praised McGraw for her talent and work ethic, noting she has learned to be more disciplined on defense and has improved her passing.
Gophers senior setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson, the Big Ten freshman of the year in 2015, said the most successful rookies are those who trust in their training and manage their anxiety under the glare of the Big Ten spotlight. She gives McGraw and Rollins high grades on those counts.
“They are not what you would expect when you think of a freshman coming in to play in the Big Ten,” she said. “They are always so composed and so consistent, and they bring so much energy. In their own way, they’re two of the team’s biggest leaders.”
Still, McGraw and Rollins both said they occasionally feel a twinge of disbelief at their circumstances.
“The entire season has been pretty surreal,” McGraw said. “It’s really awesome that Adanna and I both were able to be impact players right away. It feels great to know we’re helping our team be successful.”