PITTSBURGH - Four years ago, Hugh McCutcheon viewed Regan Pittman as “kind of a one-trick pony.” She had a pretty good trick — pounding a volleyball with extreme force — but the Gophers coach hoped she would learn to contribute to the team in other ways.
Consider it done. Wednesday, Pittman was named a first-team All-America, reflecting her all-around value to a Final Four team. The redshirt junior leads the Big Ten in blocks per set (1.43) and is among the Gophers’ leaders in hitting percentage (.356, tied for first) and aces (26, second). She’s still pounding the ball, too, adding 2.19 kills per set.
Three other Gophers also earned All-America honors. Junior opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy was named to the second team, senior outside hitter Alexis Hart to the third team and sophomore libero CC McGraw received honorable mention.
The Gophers play Stanford in the NCAA semifinals Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.
“It’s awesome,” said Pittman, a 6-5 middle blocker from Spring Hill, Kan. “It’s a product of having such good teammates. This year, my overall game grew, just being able to play every spot when needed.”
McCutcheon said Pittman’s ability to develop her all-around game was a “huge strength” for the Gophers this season. He praised her blocking, hitting accuracy, digging, defending, serving and passing.
“She’s doing all these things that are just awesome,” McCutcheon said. “I’m just extremely proud of her for trusting the process, going through the work, and being in position as a redshirt junior to see all that work pay off.”
Filling the void
Stanford had to make some significant adjustments in October, when outside hitter Kathryn Plummer was injured. The Cardinal didn’t miss a beat, going 9-1 during her absence and growing in ways that helped get it to a fourth consecutive Final Four.
Plummer, the national player of the year in each of the past two seasons, sat out five weeks because of an undisclosed injury. Coach Kevin Hambly said his team “had to go back to the drawing board,” changing its strategy on both offense and defense.
“The team handled it remarkably,” Hambly said. “They were very poised, very calm, and just got to the work of problem-solving.
“We reinvented ourselves in a lot of ways. I think we’re better because of it.”
Plummer returned in early November and wasted no time regaining her form. She was named the most outstanding player of the Stanford Region last weekend, when she had 53 kills, nine blocks and 15 digs in victories over Utah and Penn State.
New kids on the court
Baylor coach Ryan McGuyre and his players were positively giddy Wednesday as they prepared for the program’s first NCAA semifinal appearance. The Bears became one of the best stories of the season, rolling to a 29-1 record, the No. 1 ranking and the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
“We’re really excited, humbled, honored to be here in the Final Four,” said McGuyre, in his fifth season as head coach.