MINNEAPOLIS – Hugh McCutcheon has never shied away from competing against the nation’s top college programs before the University of Minnesota volleyball team kicks off its Big Ten season.
McCutcheon is entering his 11th season with the Gophers, and that approach isn’t going to change anytime soon. McCutcheon, as well as senior libero CC McGraw and second winger Taylor Landfair were all at the Big Ten Network studios in Chicago for the league’s media day on Tuesday.
The Gophers will play eight games in the 2022 non-conference season, and six of their opponents finished in the top-25 last year. Minnesota is one of seven Big Ten teams ranked, with Wisconsin and Nebraska being the top two in the country.
“It’s a robust schedule, no question. I’ve always found that knowing how strict the Big 10 are going to be isn’t really a good thing, and I don’t think that’s really a good thing when we’re walking around preseason. If we places our game, I’d rather find out early,” McCutcheon said. “The goal is to be as good as possible in December and if we’re good in August and September, then cool. The goal is , to learn and to compete and try to prepare for what we know is going to be a really tough conference schedule.”
The Gophers finished last season 23-9, 15-5 in Big Ten play and had a run on the NCAA Elite Eight. Under McCutcheon, Minnesota has made nine NCAA tournament appearances and had seven straight seasons with a run of at least the sweet 16. Their last Final Four was in 2019.
The Gophers are led by preseason All-Big Ten picks in Libero CC McGraw, a graduate student, and junior hitter Jenna Wenaas. McGraw was named a First Team All-Big Ten last season after finishing second in the league at 4.59 digs per set. She was the only player to play every set last season, having missed parts of 2022 with injuries.
McGraw said the decision to return for a final year because of the COVID-19 pandemic was an easy one.
“It was a no-brainer for me when I found out we could get another year of eligibility. I was like perfect, I can start grad school and get a program off the ground,” McGraw said. “Having one last run with my teammates and my amazing coaching staff was definitely the biggest thing for me.”
Landfair is delighted to be back on the pitch with her teammates after missing most of last season. She joined the Gophers as the No. 1 recruit in the country and played nine games as a sophomore last season before going down with an injury. As a freshman, she was an All-America Honorable Mention and First Team All-Big Ten pick.
She had to spend most of last season on the bench as a teammate, but now she’s back.
“I’m just really happy to be physically back on the pitch with my teammates. I felt like I really benefited from being a better teammate last year,” said Landfair. “I knew that physically I couldn’t be on the pitch with my team-mates, but I knew I could be with them on the touchline and give them as much energy as possible.”
“I know it wasn’t cool to get hurt, but I think some valuable lessons have been learned and I think that will keep her in a good frame of mind. We’re excited to have them back out there,” McCutcheon said.
The Gophers are selected third in the Big Ten this season, behind Wisconsin and Nebraska. But the goal is the same as every year under McCutcheon: Face a tough finish early on to be ready for the league schedule, contend for a Big Ten title and earn a good spot to make an NCAA tournament run .
“I just want to win a few games and compete and play with my teammates. It’s all or nothing,” McGraw said.