Adanna Rollins understood why it was too painful for some of her Gophers volleyball teammates to attend the Final Four last season at the Target Center, not getting to play there in front of the home fans.
Still, Rollins showed up for the national semifinals. She took in the festive environment and the intense matches. She took pictures of the court. It motivated her.
“It was a good experience to go watch because that’s my dream,” the U’s sophomore outside hitter said. “Just a year ago, watching I was like, ‘Man, I really want to be there.’ And now we’re here. It’s awesome.”
Rollins has taken her game to another level, pushing the Gophers to their sixth Final Four in program history. The Carrollton, Texas. native was named the Most Outstanding Player in the Austin Region last week, leading Minnesota (27-5) into the semifinals against Stanford (28-4) at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in Pittsburgh. The winner will face either Baylor or Wisconsin on Saturday for the NCAA title.
“She’s really helped to carry our team offensively,” sophomore libero CC McGraw said.
Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon said he hugged Rollins and told her how proud he was of her after the 3-0 sweep over Louisville in the Elite Eight win on Saturday.
The former Texas High School Player of the Year had a team-high 27 kills in two NCAA region matches — and she has led the Gophers in hitting in three of four tournament matches after a rocky start to her second season.
“Just the fact that she’s here committing to this team and working so hard to get better and perform at such a high level in a critical moment this season was awesome,” McCutcheon said. “She’s come through a lot and she did a great job.”
Rollins glanced at her coach and smiled at Tuesday’s news conference when he spoke of her improvement. They had gone through several practice sessions in the fall trying to fine tune her fundamentals.
After earning honorable mention All-America honors as the team’s third-best hitter as a freshman, Rollins’ consistency dropped off at the beginning of the 2019 season. She reached double figures in kills only twice in her first 10 matches, including just four kills vs. Purdue on Sept. 28.
Suddenly, starting in late October, Rollins had five matches in a row with double-digit kills. It took a couple weeks at the end of Big Ten play to get her swing back after missing a Nov. 16 match vs. Michigan, but Rollins has been lights-out in the NCAA tournament.
“Hitting-wise just working on my footwork, because it’s a little bit choppy at times,” Rollins said. “Also, just making sure my serve receive is good, because teams are always coming at me. Those two have been my main points I’ve been working on.”
Watching other teams play in last year’s Final Four motivated Rollins, but she also needed McCutcheon and her teammates to believe she could help get them to Pittsburgh this season.
“In practice having to work harder on my skill — that’s what helped,” she said. “Hugh coaching me and keeping me consistent. My teammates also encouraged me to keep fighting because it’s hard. It really is hard.”