Sara Nielsen has Big Ten volleyball in the bloodlines.
Her mom Gwen played collegiately at Northwestern, an aunt at Purdue.
She'll be joining that tradition in two years.
Nielsen, a sophomore and the setter on Benet's Class 4A championship team this past fall, has committed to Minnesota and former Olympic coach Hugh McCutcheon.
Nielsen pointed out that Minnesota has watched her since the eighth grade, but only intensified their interest over the last few months.
She toured the campus in early April, and after visiting California-Berkeley, decided to go with the Gophers over Cal and Wake Forest.
"I didn't know I was going to have an opportunity to play in the Big Ten," Nielsen said. "Looking back a few years, it's kind of a surprise."
Nielsen noted that she loved "everything" about Minnesota, but what stood out was the "gym culture" in place.
It reminded her of what she has at Benet and Sports Performance, where she plays for the club's top under-16 team.
"I really felt at home at Minnesota," said Nielsen, who is considering a business major. "The girls are like-minded. I felt I wouldn't have to compromise school-related. It's important that I like the school if volleyball isn't taken into consideration."
The coach helps, too.
Prior to coming to Minnesota in 2012, McCutcheon coached the U.S. Olympic men to the gold medal in 2008, and the women silver in 2012.
McCutcheon led Minnesota to a 27-8 record and NCAA Elite Eight berth his first year, and followed that up by reaching the Sweet 16 in 2013.
"Coach McCutcheon was great. It seems like he cares about his girls not just as players but as people," Nielsen said. "I liked talking to him about volleyball."
In her first full season as varsity setter, Nielsen helped lead Benet to a 41-1 record. Nielsen had 944 assists, 194 digs and 57 kills for the season, including 23 assists in Benet's state championship win over Libertyville.
Nielsen's 6-foot frame is ideal for the next level, just one of her physical tools.
"The more you watch her play, the more impressed you are," Benet coach Brad Baker said. "She is a pure setter and she sets a very hittable ball. When you find a player like that you want them."
Nielsen will need to get stronger as she transitions to the Big Ten, competing against the likes of Penn State and Nebraska, and she knows it.
"The Big Ten is extremely physical. You need to be strong and quick, and you need to be in the weight room," Baker said. "The kids the Big Ten schools are recruiting are athletes and physical players. She will have to compete with those players and attack them. But she's young and she has lots of room to grow."
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