By Katie Spielberger
Sarah Wilhite has loved volleyball since she started playing in fourth grade, practicing with her father in their Eden Prairie driveway after school. But she never thought she’d end up where she is today, recognized as this year’s top college volleyball player in the nation.
After racking up more than 1,100 career kills and helping the Gophers advance to the NCAA Final Four for the second year in a row, the senior was named the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) National Player of the Year. It’s the first time a Gopher has ever won this award.
Wilhite hadn’t received even an honorable mention from the AVCA before this season. But she knew her coaches always believed she could reach this level and pushed her until everything “seemed to click” at the end of her junior season. Her faith and her family helped with her mental game, she says, and she can’t praise her teammates enough. “The best part about it is the people who you get to play with and against,” Wilhite says.
Wilhite wasn’t the only standout Gopher. The AVCA gave All-America honors to Samantha Seliger-Swenson (first team) and Hannah Tapp (second team) and honorable mentions to Molly Lohman and Alexis Hart. Paige Tapp became the first Gopher athlete ever to receive the NCAA’s Senior CLASS Award, which recognizes both academic and athletic achievement.
Wilhite will graduate later this year. She is finishing coursework in her physiology major and looking into physician assistant graduate degree programs. She’s also thinking about playing volleyball abroad in the fall.
But this semester, she’s back at Gopher team practice, helping to mentor new volleyball players, eager to give back to the program that’s given her so much. What advice would Wilhite give new players? “Not to lose the love for the game. That’s what really drives your appreciation—not taking a second of it for granted.”