Player of the Year watch: Minnesota in good hands with Samantha Seliger-Swenson
Each week during the volleyball season, we'll recognize a player whose recent performances reinforce her place among the best in the nation. Consider it our way of checking in on, or in some cases introducing, the personalities who will shape the race for espnW player of the year.
Samantha Seliger-Swenson makes the Big Ten's top offense run with the fluidity of a ballet performance.
A week ago, the senior setter and crew dominated Wisconsin in a border battle, highlighted by Alexis Hart, who was error-free in 23 attempts and hit .609. That same night, Stephanie Samedy hit a career-best .545. Three days later at Indiana, Taylor Morgan hit at a clip of .923, with 12 kills in 13 attempts.
Minnesota moved up to No. 5 in this week's national poll, and Seliger-Swenson notched conference setter of the week honors for the second straight week and 13th time in her career after averaging 37.5 assists and 12.5 assists in the two victories.
She kept it going in a Wednesday sweep of Northwestern, piling up 30 assists and directing the Gophers to a .390 hitting night.
Minnesota (11-2) ranks fifth nationally in hitting percentage behind Seliger-Swenson, the engine for the fourth straight year. She touts her teammates for making the job easy, but really, said coach Hugh McCutcheon, it's a two-way street.
"She's just really good at giving the hitter the set that they need," he said.
Samedy hits fast. Hart likes a high ball. The details don't spin in Seliger-Swenson's head. She knows them backward and forward.
"We spend a lot of time breaking down the timing," the 5-foot-11 Seliger-Swenson said. "Each hitter is supposed to be on a certain step when I have the ball. There are times where the transition is superquick or they're not on the right step, so it's my job as a setter to see if they're early, see if they're late, give them the ball they need."
"She does a nice job of keeping people in rhythm," McCutcheon said.
The sport's active leader in career assists and assists per set has started since day one at Minnesota. Her hometown, Minnetonka, is roughly 12 miles southwest of Minneapolis, and Seliger-Swenson grew up loving Gopher volleyball along with the Vikings and Timberwolves. As a first-grader, she colored a picture of herself in a maroon uniform with a gold 13 in the center. Underneath, she even spelled Minnesota correctly.
"When I came here in 10th grade, my unofficial visit, I actually committed on my visit," said Seliger-Swenson, who wears 13, just as her mother, Vicki, did at Iowa State. "I knew there was no other place I wanted to be."
She was Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2015 and earned first-team All-American honors as a sophomore when she was also named Big Ten setter of the year. Seliger-Swenson led Minnesota to consecutive final fours in her first two seasons and would dearly love to finish out her college career in Minneapolis' Target Center, host of this year's national semifinals and championship game.
"That would be so cool," she said.
Seliger-Swenson recorded her 1,000th career dig against the Badgers and is particularly proud of saving a hammer by Wisconsin's Dana Rettke, a 6-foot-8 middle blocker with a heavy swing.
"There was a split in the block, and I probably had to take four or five steps up toward the 10-foot line so I could have a chance at digging it," she said. "I knew she was going to hit it straight down. I dug it up and we got the point."
Seliger-Swenson had a career night in digs, with 16, in a sweep of Penn State in Minnesota's Big Ten opener.
"She's playing as good back there as I've seen her play," McCutcheon said. "At the net she's becoming functional. For a while there, there wasn't much happening. But now she's able to hold her own at the net, and she's certainly a great server. She scores a lot of points for us."
Seliger-Swenson continues to blossom as a leader with a strong voice on and off the court. One of the ideas the coaching staff implemented this season, Coffee Talk, encourages the upperclassmen to get to know the younger teammates over coffee or lunch. Enjoying a blonde latte with her younger teammates is an indulgence she enjoys even more than "Game of Thrones."
"The more I can connect off the court with my teammates, the better unity we have on the court," she said.
The Golden Gophers head into a meaty portion of their schedule with two matches against No. 3 Nebraska in a 16-day span, starting with a meeting in Lincoln on Saturday.
"We're superexcited we get to play there and at home against them. In the past, sometimes we've only played them once," Seliger-Swenson said.