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Wayzata’s Stella Swenson, a setter on the attack, is the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year in volleyball

By JIM PAULSEN, Star Tribune, 11/08/22, 7:15PM CST


A scoring mentality separates Swenson from most who play her position.

Stella Swenson, the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year in volleyball, posed for a portrait Sunday at the Minnesota Select Volleyball Center in Osseo. Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Wayzata setter Stella Swenson likes to get a little pugnacious when she runs the Trojans offense.

She doesn’t settle for setting. She wants to score, too.

For her setting skills, but also for bringing the fight to opponents when most other setters don’t, Swenson is the 2022 Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year in volleyball.

A setter with volleyball in her genes and confidence spilling over, Swenson is considered one of the country’s best. But she’s certainly not typical.

She can do what all the other top setters can. She’ll deftly take a stray pass and make it an eminently useable set. She’s adept at seeing the weaknesses in the opposing defense and directing the attack that way. And she has the physical skills necessary to run a high-powered offense.

What sets the 6-2 Wayzata junior apart is her willingness, even desire, to play offense. Many setters are content to let the rest of the team reap the rewards, pile up the kill totals. That’s not the way Swenson is wired.

When Wayzata beat Champlin Park in four sets last Wednesday in the Section 5, Class 4A, Section 5 championship match, Rebels coach John Yunker said Swenson’s style was the biggest difference in a match that might as well have been a state-, championship showdown.

“There’s not another setter like Stella that attacks like that,” Yunker said. “And she’s a heck of a setter to begin with.”

Swenson was destined to be a volleyball player. Her twin sister, Olivia, is a 6-3 outside hitter. Older sister, Samantha, was also a setter and was the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year in 2012 before playing for the Gophers. Mother, Vicki, played collegiately at Iowa State, won more than 500 matches as head coach at Hopkins and is a member of the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Hall of Fame.

The Swensons have a gym in their home, so Stella and Olivia and youngest sister, Eva, a 6-4 freshman, can work on their volleyball skills whenever the need arises.

That background has shaped Stella’s go-get-it approach. What Stella wants, Stella gets. Or, at least, tries to get.

“That’s what I learned from my mom,” she said. “Don’t stop pursuing what you want. She’s such a strong and powerful woman. Like, she’s just really cool. I wouldn’t be the volleyball player I am without her.”

Mind-set makes the difference.

“One of the first things people say when they scout Wayzata is, ‘They have an aggressive setter,’ ” Stella said. “I like to dump.”

A dump is when the setter, rather than send a set toward one of her attackers, tries to surprise the defense by hitting it over the net on the second touch. Done right, it results in a quick point.

“When everyone is tensed up and looking for the attack, I’ll just throw it over,” she said. “It’s a momentum-changer for sure. And it’s my favorite thing to do.”

She’ll take that style into the state tournament, which begins Wednesday in Xcel Energy Center. Wayzata is the defending Class 4A champion.

Swenson said last week’s section final against Champlin Park was perhaps her best volleyball memory. Champlin Park was ranked second in Class 4A, Wayzata third.

“That's probably the best high school game I’ve played in three years,” she said. “Last year, we were so dominant I never really felt nervous before a match. But I was so nervous the day before we played and the day we played them. Every set, except for the last one, was won by just two points. It was big play after big play after big play. That’s the type of volleyball I want to play.”

Last summer, Stella and Olivia committed to play for the University of Minnesota after graduation, both looking forward to playing for coach Hugh McCutcheon. McCutcheon surprised most everyone by announcing last month he would step down after the this season.

“My heart dropped because I had been wanting to be coached by him since I was 10,” Stella said. “I’ve been to all his camps, I’d seen how he made my sister great, and I want to be even greater.”

Finding out McCutcheon was not leaving but instead was moving into the role of assistant athletic director and sports development coach allayed some fears.

“He won’t be the coach, but he’ll still be there, which is kind of reassuring, you know?” Swenson said.

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