Their résumés bear all the hallmarks of the classic overachiever. During their four years with the Gophers, Paige and Hannah Tapp have amassed a pile of volleyball honors, maintained high grade-point averages in the rigorous Carlson School of Management and made the shortlist for a national award recognizing scholarship and service.
The Stewartville, Minn., natives admit, though, that they didn’t understand their true potential until arriving at the U. Coach Hugh McCutcheon saw it all along. Early in their careers, he pushed the Tapps and the rest of the Gophers’ seniors to expand their idea of what is possible — and in raising the bar for themselves, they lifted the entire program.
The twin sisters will make their final appearance at the Sports Pavilion this weekend, as the top-ranked Gophers host an NCAA regional. They prepared for Friday’s regional semifinal against No. 18 Missouri the same way they have approached every practice: by striving to be a little better at the end than they were at the beginning. Their goal is for the Gophers to do the same as they pursue a berth in next weekend’s Final Four.
“Even though it’s senior year, it’s not an end point,” said Paige, a third team All-America selection in 2014 and 2015. “We’re not slowing down. We’re continually working hard, continuing to improve every day.
“[McCutcheon’s] goals and visions are so high. And being here and living it, it’s exceeded every expectation. At first, you don’t think you can work that hard; you think there’s no way you can sustain that every day. And then, you learn your limits are not your limits, and you see how much farther you can go.”
The Tapps are part of a six-member senior class, the Gophers’ largest since 2004. Along with Sarah Wilhite of Eden Prairie and Michigan native Katie Schau, they have played for the Gophers their entire college careers. Erica Handley of Lakeville transferred to the U after one season at Syracuse, and Margaret Eggert of Woodbury came to the program after two seasons at Ole Miss.
McCutcheon credited the group with setting a standard of unyielding effort and constant progress, instituting the culture he envisioned when he came to the U in 2012. Hannah and Paige Tapp have been right in the middle of it, literally and figuratively.
Hannah, a middle blocker who also plays the right side, was named All-Big Ten for the second season in a row and is third on the team with 303 kills. Paige, also a middle blocker, was named a first-team academic All-America on Thursday and has 231 kills. The twins are among the Gophers’ best defensive players, with 240 total blocks between them.
“Historically, this program has been very strong,” McCutcheon said. “But I thought there needed to be a shift in the way we go about things, and [the seniors] were the group that really had to carry that load.
“Hannah and Paige were aligned with what we wanted to do. They wanted to dream some big dreams. That’s what we’ve been all about. And they were prepared to do the work.”
When they arrived at the U, the Tapps said, they weren’t exactly sure what that meant. Both felt they had a solid work ethic, but they learned McCutcheon’s expectations far surpassed their own.
Though they were naive, they were willing to do whatever their coach asked. The sisters reshaped their thinking, freeing themselves from notions of what they could do and learning how to lean on teammates. Paige said it was “empowering” to have coaches and peers encouraging her as she pushed a sled during a punishing spring workout before her sophomore season, assuring her she had more strength than she knew.
Their growing sense of what they could achieve helped the Gophers reach the Final Four last season, when both sisters received All-America honors: Hannah on the first team, Paige on the third.
“During my first spring here, I thought I was working hard,’’ Hannah said. “But I had to redefine that. I didn’t know how far I could push myself, so I had to rewire my thinking.
“All of us seniors have grown so much. We wanted this program to be about hard work, about being a great teammate and being selfless, and we want it to stay that way.’’
The sisters will end their careers with multiple academic All-Big Ten honors. They are among the school’s all-time top 10 in career attack percentage, and Hannah is the all-time leader in block assists (508), with Paige fifth (424).
The Tapps will graduate later this month with degrees in marketing. Both plan to play volleyball overseas, though they are containing their ambitions to the near term.
The sisters know now what is possible, and they hope to fill one last spot on their college résumés: winning the program’s first NCAA title.
“Even at [Monday’s] practice, we came in and got a little bit better,” Paige said. “We’ve had a great four years here. We’re just trying to end it right.”