Stephanie Samedy is used to carrying a heavy workload. As a six-rotation player, the Gophers’ do-it-all junior rarely leaves the volleyball court, regularly ranking among her team’s leaders in kills, blocks, digs and aces.
She’s expecting to play her usual part Friday, when the Gophers open the NCAA tournament against Fairfield at Maturi Pavilion. But earlier this season, when injuries forced the team to switch its offensive scheme, Samedy needed to learn a skill that came much less easily. She had to rotate in and out under the two-setter system the Gophers used in several matches, putting her in the rare position of watching some points from the sidelines.
“I knew it was something we needed to do for the team,” she said. “And at the end of the day, it’s always about the team.”
The 6-2 opposite hitter has returned to her six-rotation role, now that setter Kylie Miller is back in the lineup after recovering from a concussion. With a little less time on the court this season, Samedy’s statistics aren’t as gaudy as usual, but she still leads the Gophers with 313 kills, and is third in blocks (89), digs (247) and aces (19). Wednesday, she was named to the All-Big Ten first team for the third consecutive season.
Samedy also set a positive tone for the Gophers during a season filled with uncertainty. Handling her changing circumstances without complaint, she helped her team stay on track for a 23-5 record and the No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament.
“This year, we were forced to explore different lineups and do different things,” Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “[Samedy] was absolutely in line with whatever we needed her to do. You knew there were some things she was going to give up, but she was on board.
“It was quite a significant growth moment for her, because it was hard for her. But she was still able to grind through.”
That’s become a point of pride for Samedy. A two-time All-America, she said she never had been through a season quite like this one, when the situation dictated that she play a little less.
Having an adaptable nature helped. So did her willingness to expand her idea of what she could give to the Gophers.
“I went into it thinking, ‘This is what’s best for the team, and I’ll support it any way I can,’ ” said Samedy, who is from Clermont, Fla. “I’ve learned a great lesson through this entire thing: Just embrace your role today. And that was my role.”
Samedy meshed well with Miller, the Gophers’ new setter, at the start of the season, racking up 94 kills in the first six matches. Miller was injured in late September and missed 13 of the next 15 contests.
The Gophers ran their usual 5-1 offense — five hitters and one setter — for a while, as Bayley McMenimen stepped in. But McCutcheon later switched to a 6-2 scheme, which uses six hitters and two setters.
That system temporarily suited the Gophers, keeping their relatively short setters out of the front row. But its substitution pattern required Samedy to share time on the right side with Airi Miyabe. In addition to getting fewer attacks, Samedy had to adjust to moving in and out of the match, and to being a spectator for stretches.
“As the season went on, it was about, ‘What can I contribute to the team?’ ” she said. “Maybe that was energy or leadership. Or serving aggressive or making good blocks, as opposed to just looking at how many kills I got in a match.
“If I didn’t have my best night, I’d go home and think about, ‘What can I take away from this? How can I learn and grow?’ I wanted to do whatever I could, to be selfless for the team.”
McCutcheon said the Gophers will have more consistency with Miller back in the lineup and Samedy playing six rotations. The pair’s performance in the final regular-season match — a 3-1 victory Saturday at Penn State — earned them the Big Ten player and setter of the week awards. Samedy tied her season high with 21 kills and hit a season-best .475, while Miller had 49 assists and five blocks.
Last week, McCutcheon suggested that Samedy will benefit later in her career from the tests she endured this season. In her view, she already has.
“I just try to find the opportunity in things,” she said. “It was difficult, this whole season. But I definitely learned from it and grew from it. That’s always positive.’’