Mckenna Wucherer got a head start with volleyball stardom well before high school.
The talented outside hitter from Brookfield, Wis., received interest from college coaches as early as the sixth grade — and her family would hide the recruiting letters from her.
Still barely a teenager when she took her first recruiting trips to volleyball programs, Wucherer committed to the Gophers over rival Wisconsin when she was just 14 years old.
Five years later, the former No. 1 recruit in the nation sees that decision come full circle as a freshman outside hitter for the No. 8 Gophers, who host the No. 6 Badgers on Sunday night at Maturi Pavilion.
"They actually changed the rules to not being able to recruit until you're a junior in high school," Wucherer said. "But I think right from the start I knew this was the place I wanted to be."
Wisconsin's the defending national champion and closer to her hometown near Milwaukee. Still, Wucherer has no regrets staying loyal to her commitment to the Gophers and Hugh McCutcheon's program because "here I could see myself living out my dream of playing college volleyball."
After joining the Gophers in January, Wucherer suffered an injury that sidelined her for the first six matches of this season. But the recovery process and transition into college became easier with her oldest sister by her side.
After earning all-conference honors at Northern Kentucky in four years, setter Miranda Wucherer entered the transfer portal last spring. She didn't know if she'd use the extra COVID year of eligibility, but the U offered her a chance to join Mckenna as a graduate transfer in June.
"The fact that we can share this experience together and I can learn from an amazing coaching staff, I really couldn't pass it up," Miranda said. "When we're on the court, we're focusing on pushing each other, making each other better players and teammates. Off the court, we can just be friends and sisters."
Mckenna's middle sister, Abby, also played volleyball at Southern Utah. The bond with her older siblings growing up became deeper than just with sports because they helped raise her.
Their mother, Wendy, died of breast cancer when Mckenna was only 3. Their father, Greg, worked hard to support three children as a firefighter, but his demanding job often left Miranda in charge at home.
"We really connected after we lost my mom," Mckenna said. "We didn't have the motherly role in the family, so Miranda stepped into that. She really supported us. When my dad was at work, she would make us [meals] and drive us wherever we needed to be and make our schedule."
Miranda still looks after her little sister in college but literally looks up to her on the court. As a 6-1 freshman outside hitter, Mckenna's as gifted athletically as any of her peers — able to hit with such force and precision at the net.
In her first college match coming off the injury, the younger Wucherer admitted to being nervous but it didn't show with 13 kills in a starting role in a loss to No. 22 Pepperdine on Sept. 15. She followed that up with 15 kills in a bounce back win vs. Washington State.
She had 13 kills in her Big Ten debut in Friday's loss at Purdue. But the Wucherer family already had home-and-away matches with the Badgers marked on the schedule (also at Kohl Center on Oct. 29). They're excited for the Gophers to play against their home-state program.
"I think getting to play them at the Pav for the first time will be helpful because we'll have the home crowd behind us," Miranda said. "In those situations, Mckenna usually rises up and plays amazing."
One factor in Mckenna picking the Gophers over Wisconsin was McCutcheon's legendary international coaching resume, but she's years away from pursuing Olympic dreams.
Since her college decision in eighth grade, Wucherer knows she made the right choice. What better way to start her Big Ten career off at home than with a big victory against Wisconsin?
"I've been in the big moments before in club, with Team USA and in high school," Mckenna said. "I think we have the pieces and the depth to go very far."