Samantha Seliger-Swenson completed spring semester at the University of Minnesota and then, as part of the pursuit of a degree in business and marketing, she spent 3½ weeks in Italy.
We’re going to call her “Sam” here because everyone does, and my attempt to attach the nickname “Triple S” has proved to be a dud.
Thus, Sam was part of an official group of 20 students with the arduous task of spending portions of May and June in Italy. Leah Rohweder — a journalism student at the U and Sam’s friend since kindergarten in Hopkins — also went along on the vaca …
Make that, Rohweder also went along on the academic quest.
“The class was ‘Great Minds of the Renaissance,’ ” Sam said. “We spent time in Florence, which is great but also very hectic and filled with tourists. What I enjoyed most was Tuscany … taking a bike ride on a quiet road, looking over the gorgeous valleys, visiting a castle that dates to 1011, something like that.”
Those 3½ weeks were the longest period that Sam had spent away from volleyball since before she could walk.
Her mom, Vicki, is the long-serving volleyball coach at Hopkins High School. Vicki said a couple of years ago that the keepsakes for Sam as a baby include a bib from legendary prep coach Walt Weaver and his wife.
“It was definitely appreciated, to go through three weeks without your mind on volleyball,” Sam said. “The interesting thing is that near the end of our time there, I really started to miss it. I think not being around the game for a month has made me appreciate it more than ever.”
That appreciation had a challenge this week. Coach Hugh McCutcheon’s summer camps are taking place in the university’s fieldhouse. There’s no air conditioning in that ancient building, of course.
It wasn’t bad in there for the young players and student coaches on Friday. But on Thursday, with 90-plus degrees and suffocating humidity … well, it was a long way from looking out over Tuscany grandeur from the expansive front yard of an ancient castle.
“Yes, it was,” Sam said. “The heat here gets us ready for practicing at the Pavilion.”
The official start for practice is Aug. 8. Seliger-Swenson already has been the quarterback for the best-ever run for Gophers volleyball.
Sam was a freshman setting for Daly Santana and the Tapp twins, Paige and Hannah, in 2015 for a Gophers team that won the Big Ten title and reached the Final Four.
She was a sophomore setting for Sarah Wilhite, the National Player of the Year, plus the Tapps and Alexis Hart, a freshman with a powerful hit. The 2016 Gophers finished second in the Big Ten and went to another Final Four.
Sam was a junior and setting for the relentless senior, Molly Lohman, plus Hart and sensational freshman Stephanie Samedy in 2017. This younger bunch of Gophers reached a No. 1 ranking at one point, before finishing third in the mighty Big Ten and losing in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Through three seasons, Seliger-Swenson has compiled 4,416 assists and has missed one of the 373 sets that her teams have played. Unforgettably, there was a 10-game Big Ten winning streak at the end of 2016 that included four consecutive five-set victories over stout opponents.
It was suggested to Sam that Gophers volleyball gained a stronger position with the public during that homestand and that it holds that position today.
“I remember the coaches posting the schedule, and then putting a line through those matches after we had won,” she said. “We didn’t quite catch a great Nebraska for first place, but we tried.”
Sam will be setting for Hart and Samedy, and Jasmyn Martin and Regan Pittman, and others to be discovered, with freshman CC McGraw of Prior Lake as the probable defensive specialist (libero).
Sam and CC’s mothers are close friends, as are Sam and CC’s older sister Libby. “I’ve known CC since she was a short, skinny kid,” Sam said.
A portion of Minnesota’s volleyball crowd has known Samantha Seliger-Swenson even longer … since the cradle.
And now she’s 21 and a senior leader, facing the gantlet of a tough nonconference schedule that starts with Florida State and North Carolina Aug. 24-25 at Target Center and featuring a brutal Big Ten, with this carrot at the end of the stick:
The 2018 Final Four, Dec. 13 and 15, also at Target Center.
“We can dream about it, but we can’t think about it,” Sam said. “Our coach [Hugh McCutcheon] does a very good job of convincing us that what matters most is playing the next point.”