Gophers’ volleyball team sweeps scrimmage vs. USD at Fairmont High School

RISING THUNDER — University of Minnesota Golden Gophers outside hitter Stephanie Samedy (left) elevates before hammering a spike against a pair of University of South Dakota defenders during a spring volleyball scrimmage Saturday afternoon at Cardinal Gym in Fairmont. Minnesota hitter Taylor Morgan (12) prepares for a possible return. (Photo by Charlie Sorrells)

FAIRMONT — The right place at the right time.

Area sports fans received a rare sneak peek at the volleyball team that the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers will put on the court for the upcoming 2019 fall season on Saturday afternoon at Cardinal Gym.

Two-time All-American outside hitter Stephanie Samedy, All-American honorable mention spiker Adanna Rollins and two-year starting libero Lauren Barnes powered the Gophers’ talent-laden lineup to a four-game sweep — 25-10, 25-16, 25-22, 25-17 — over the University of South Dakota Coyotes during the first of Minnesota’s four spring scrimmages.

“The NCAA allows us four times to officially scrimmage during the spring,” said Nao Ikeda, the Gopher volleyball program’s director of operations. “Assistant coach Matt Houk, who was the head coach at South Dakota before coming to Minnesota, (five seasons ago) used his connections there (Vermillion) to set up this scrimmage.

“Fairmont is about halfway between the two universities, so we contacted the head volleyball coach (Haley Loerts) in January to negotiate all the details. We’re grateful that Fairmont High School and coach Loerts were nice enough to host us today.”

After returning from an eight-day spring break trip to Okayama, Japan, last Saturday, the globe-trotting Gopher players, coaches and support staff exited the University of Minnesota campus at 6:30 a.m. Saturday, arrived at Cardinal Gym at 9 a.m. and got ankles and wrists taped prior to a warm-up practice session.

“It usually takes our trainers about 45 minutes to get the players ready, so we got on the court about 9:45 a.m., ran some drills and hit until 11:30 a.m., and then shared a catered lunch from HyVee with the Fairmont coaching staff,” said Ikeda.

Samedy, Rollins and Barnes — who were selected to the United States Collegiate National World University Games’ 12-player roster — and Kylie Miller, a spring transfer to the Gophers from UCLA, highlighted the post-scrimmage photo and autograph sessions with the capacity crowd.

“We appreciate all the fans who showed up today to watch us scrimmage,” said Rollins, who along with Samedy and Barnes, will travel to Napoli, Italy, for the CNWU Games’ preliminaries July 4-11 before the elite tournament concludes July 12-13.

Following a weekend off, the Gophers continue their spring scrimmages by taking on Kansas State University at Cowles Fieldhouse on the Simpson College campus in Indianola, Iowa, April 13.

Minnesota then travels to Waukesha, Wis., to face Bradley University on April 20 before closing out the spring session by playing host to North Dakota State on April 27 in Minneapolis.

“It was a great experience working with the Gophers, and hopefully, they’ll return here next year for another scrimmage,” said Loerts. “It’s not very often you get the chance to host a volleyball program the caliber of Minnesota.”

Minnesota head coach Hugh McCutcheon, who served as Team USA’s volleyball mentor in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, and the reigning Big Ten Conference champion Gophers return 15 players from last fall’s team that compiled a 27-4 overall record and a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA Tournament.