OMAHA - While Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon has tried to deflect credit for his team’s success this season, Daly Santana was having none of it.
“He is a big deal,” the senior outside hitter said, her voice reflecting her respect. “He really cares about the sport, the team and each of us individually, and that’s all you can ask for.”
McCutcheon’s peers echoed that praise Thursday. The American Volleyball Coaches Association selected him as its Division I coach of the year, marking the first time a Gophers coach has won that honor. In four seasons with the program, McCutcheon has compiled a 105-31 record, and he led the Gophers back to the NCAA Final Four for the first time since 2009.
The award was given at a luncheon Thursday before the Gophers played Texas in the NCAA semifinals at Omaha’s CenturyLink Center.
Earlier this month, McCutcheon was named Big Ten coach of the year and AVCA North Region coach of the year. The Gophers were picked to finish fifth in the Big Ten this season after going 19-12 last year. They won their first league title since 2002, compiled a school-record conference win streak of 15 matches and earned a No. 2 seed — highest in program history — in the NCAA tournament. Wednesday, four Gophers were named to the AVCA’s all-America teams, the most ever for the program in a single season.
Freshman setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson said McCutcheon is a “great mentor,” and she and Santana said he is invested in his players’ success as students and people as well as on the court.
Monday, before the Gophers traveled to Omaha, McCutcheon was asked what it meant to him to make the Final Four so early in his tenure.
“As coaches, our job is to facilitate the improvement of the athletes and guide them on a journey and help them become the best they can be,” he said. “If we happen to win, I’ve still got to get up and help with the kids in the morning and put them to bed at night.
“I’m lucky enough to be able to tell you that coaching is what I do. It’s not who I am.”
McCutcheon joined the Gophers in 2012 and has coached the team to the Sweet Sixteen or better in three of his four seasons. He led the United States men’s volleyball team to the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and he coached the U.S. women’s team to the silver medal at the 2012 Olympics in London. His combined record with the American men’s and women’s teams is 213-72.
A native of New Zealand, McCutcheon is married to Lakeville native and former U.S. volleyball Olympian Elisabeth “Wiz’’ Bachman.