After sweeping 13 of 20 Big Ten matches this season, the Gophers got another notable sweep Wednesday, when coach Hugh McCutcheon and senior setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson topped the list of Big Ten award winners announced by the league office.
McCutcheon was named Big Ten Coach of the Year by both his fellow coaches and the media. Seliger-Swenson was named the conference’s Player of the Year, along with Co-Setter of the Year, sharing that award with Jordyn Poulter of Illinois. Seliger-Swenson also joined Gophers outside hitter Stephanie Samedy as unanimous selections to the All-Big Ten first team.
The third-ranked Gophers, who open NCAA tournament play Friday against Bryant, put seven players on the All-Big Ten teams chosen by league coaches. Middle blocker Regan Pittman also made the first team, and three players made the second team: outside hitters Alexis Hart and Adanna Rollins, and middle blocker Taylor Morgan. Rollins and libero CC McGraw were named to the all-freshman team.
McCutcheon, who also was Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2015, guided the Gophers to the third Big Ten championship in program history, a 19-1 record in league play and the No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. Tuesday, as he prepared the team for its postseason opener at Maturi Pavilion, he downplayed the importance of individual awards.
“It’s always nice to get the accolades and the recognition, but I don’t think we necessarily hang our hats on those kinds of things,” McCutcheon said. “It’s more important how we define ourselves and what we’re trying to do.
“Friday, we’ve got to go out and win. It doesn’t matter if you’re Coach of the Year or Coach of the Decade or whatever, you’ve still got to go out there and do your job, and the team still has to go out and perform.”
Bryant breaks through
The only time the Gophers have played Bryant was in 2015, when they swept the Bulldogs at the College of Charleston tournament. Four Bryant freshmen who played in that match — Kristin Kingi, Kirstyn Sperry, Julia Flynn and Grace Richmeyer — have since boosted the Bulldogs to their best season since moving to Division I in 2008.
Bryant, of Smithfield, R.I., is 22-12 after defeating Central Connecticut and Sacred Heart in the Northeast Conference tournament to capture their first berth in the NCAA Division I tournament.
The Bulldogs lead the nation with 1,849 kills, paced by freshman Caroline Kennedy (404), Kingi (356) and Flynn (341). They also have an NCAA-best 1,732 assists, with Sperry dishing out 998.
Coach Theresa Garlacy, who has spent her entire 23-season head coaching career at Bryant, logged her 500th victory in September.
• As of Wednesday, some tickets remained for the first- and second-round matches at Maturi Pavilion. South Carolina plays Colorado in the first-round opener at 4:30 p.m. Friday, followed by the Gophers vs. Bryant at 7. The winners play in the second round Saturday at 7 p.m.
• Friday’s Gophers match will be livestreamed free on BTN Plus.