Wayzata volleyball standout Swenson finds her own way to the U

·4 min read

Stella Swenson's commitment to the Gophers volleyball team last week was not preordained. It was not written in the stars or illuminated by blowing sand off a piece of parchment. It's just easy to think it was.

She is 16 years old and rated one of the best players in the country for the Class of 2024. Last season as a sophomore setter, she helped lead Wayzata to an undefeated 34-0 season and the Class 4A title and was named the Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year in Minnesota.

Her older sister is Samantha Seliger-Swenson, a four-time All-America setter for the Gophers from 2015-2018. Their mom, Vicki Seliger-Swenson, was the volleyball coach at Hopkins for 25 years after a standout career at Iowa State.

That Stella is in the family she is in — that she has been holding a volleyball since she could hold things, that her whole life is enmeshed with the sport — both steers her narrative and impedes it.

"Stella is her own person," Vicki said. "Thankfully she has a personality that I think is just really level-headed, and she doesn't get too worked up over, 'Oh you're Sam's little sister?' Stella, since a young, young age has always said, 'I'll just be better. I'm better than Sam.' That's just kind of who she is."

She totaled 936 assists last season, tied for the second-best mark in the state, to go along with 145 digs, 93 kills, 58 aces and 57 blocks. In the Class 4A championship game against East Ridge, she posted 55 assists over four sets.

Scott Jackson is entering his 24th season as Wayzata's volleyball coach and praised Stella's competitiveness and ability to lead even though she's an underclassman. But he knows that her game is under a unique microscope.

"Everyone is going to look at her and compare her to Sam but she is a completely different player than Sam," Jackson said. "What I want Stella to do is grow in her own abilities and to bring her most authentic self to her role and she is going to be fantastic if she does that. And I know she will. Try to slow this kid down, there is no way."

Jackson has coached several collegiate All-Americas through his Minnesota Select Volleyball program, including current Gophers libero CC McGraw and former Wisconsin star setter Sydney Hilley.

"Stella stacks up favorably against every one of those players," he said. "She is in that realm as a sophomore, and what she does with that the next two years with us and the next four years after with the Gophers, that's up to her primarily."

The Gophers do not lack in star recruits, but for coach Hugh McCutcheon, this particular commitment from Swenson breaks a recent trend.

The last four winners, over six seasons, of the Gatorade Player of the Year in Minnesota have played elsewhere. Stewartville's Erin Lamb (Kentucky); Eagan's Kennedi Orr (Nebraska); Eagan's McKenna Melville (Central Florida); and Champlin Park's Hilley (Wisconsin).

The last winner of that award to sign with the Gophers? Samantha Seliger-Swenson.

"There is always a little bit of luck involved," Vicki said. "If the Gophers had a setter a year older than Stella or a year older than Samantha, for that matter, those girls aren't going to play at the University of Minnesota. There are a lot of factors that have to fall into place. We're very fortunate that they needed a setter in the 2024 class."

Stella said she would have gone to Minnesota with or without her family connection. But watching up close as her sister went to two Final Fours with a team that also featured players like Sarah Wilhite, Hannah and Paige Tapp and Alexis Hart didn't hurt.

"When I watched them play on the court I was just amazed," Stella said. "Of course I thought of other programs, but I have always looked at the Gophers and I love what they do."

In a few years, she'll get to take part in the amazement.