On Tapp... And Tapp...
Here are some things you may or may not know about Hannah Tapp and Paige Tapp, sophomore middle blockers for the Gopher women's volleyball team.
Combined, they're 12 feet, 3 inches tall in bare feet, with Hannah holding an inch edge on her sister. Their cumulative (average) grade point average thus far is 3.935, which puts them in good stead in the U's not-for-slackers Carlson School of Management. It also puts them on Capital One Academic All-District Teams.
And it's not always apparent that they're identical twins. They share similar traits--competiveness, an outward effervescence, an artistic bent, among many--yet they can self-identify a number of differences, even aside from the ones apparent to the crowds at the Sports Pavilion. Paige is the blonde[r] Tapp, a result of the coloring jobs they've been getting since high school. Hannah is the free spirit, while Paige is more... well, serious.
"They're both very determined and they're both very driven, but that gets expressed in different ways; I think that's the best way to put it," said Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon. Paige is "a little more pragmatic," and more literal in the way she processes things, while Hannah is "a little more on the emotional side of things, but not in a bad way."
Best of all, they're great ambassadors for their hometown, the University of Minnesota, and how to excel as student-athletes.
Running around the country
The Tapps grew up in Stewartville, Minnesota, a town of about 5,500 people just south of Rochester with an abundance of city parks, a new municipal swimming pool, and the cheery slogan, "The future is bright!"
"I loved growing up in Stewartville," said Hannah. "All of our friends lived within walking distance, so we'd just run around in the parks. There wasn't very much to do--there's no movie theater and it's surrounded by corn fields and forests--so we literally got creative and found fun things to do."
They spent much of their time with a core group of friends playing sports: volleyball in the fall, basketball in the winter, track and field in the spring... and a lot more basketball (their sport of choice for much of their youth) in the summer.
"We had this really good group of girls in our grade that we did all the sports with," said Hannah. "The beginning of volleyball for us was more like a social thing with all of our friends."
As freshmen, the Tapps made the Stewartville varsity basketball team but not the varsity volleyball team. Instead, they were the team managers. But by sophomore year they started to shine, and that spring they traveled with a Stewartville team to the U for a tournament that they won. That was their first birds-eye view of the campus and the Gophers program.
Their days as three-sport athletes hit a roadblock during their junior year when a new rule prohibited basketball players from playing any volleyball during the season, even on weekends. Since that was when club volleyball took place, the Tapps faced a huge dilemma, and they ultimately decided to forgo basketball and devote themselves to volleyball success. That same year, the Stewartville basketball team came within two points of advancing to the state tournament, which still elicits the occasional, "What if?"
"It was a really tough decision, but we both agreed after we played one year of club that it was probably the best decision we could have ever made," Paige said. Indeed, their Mizuno Northern Lights club team won the open division of the USA Junior National Championships in the summer of 2012. "Ultimately, we're in the right spot and the choices we have made have paid off."
They're abundantly happy to be wearing maroon and gold, since they had imagined playing for the Gophers on visits to watch games as kids.
"It always seemed like a faraway dream for us," Paige said. "It was in the back of my mind to play Division I for the Gophers. And then coming here and talking to the coaches, things got really real, really fast, and that was just incredible. And all of a sudden, I didn't want anything else."
"It was always like a dream--kind of untouchable," added Hannah.
Same size, different color
Back to the twin thing. For most of their lives, the Tapps have gone after the same things, whether it be clothes, sports, or academic programs. They talked about attending different colleges, presumably about like the United States talked about adopting the metric system.
"We like the same things; we [just] don't like to admit it," said Hannah. But we're "not quite Mary Kate and Ashley."
Hannah describes Paige as being very organized and very analytical. "She has a good sense of when things are going right and when they are going wrong, and she obviously tries to make them right. And she's very smart."
Paige appraises her sister as being more outgoing and funny, quick to crack a joke. "She's a bit more laid back than me. If something happens she's not going to stress over it. She knows it'll work out eventually. That would be a nice trait to have."
"They're well balanced in terms of their interests," said McCutcheon. "Obviously, they care about volleyball, but they get it done in the classroom, and they also have an artistic [side]. You know, they are quite the renaissance athletes. They have some balance to them. I like that."
Hannah points out that they're equally and fiercely competitive. She pauses for a bit, then sighs at a fond memory. "All I can think about is, growing up we'd play basketball every night," she said. "We'd play PIG and that was fine; we could always finish a game of PIG. It's easy to define a winner and a loser.
"But we'd also always play one-on-one, and that got aggressive, and we've never finished," she added (to Paige's laughter), saying they would disagree about fouls or to what score they were playing. "We probably played every single night in the summer [for years] and we never finished a game because we can't have a winner."
A sibling rivalry with no resolution. That's a perfect thing to take to college.
Why Shane Battier is like a middle blocker
When asked to name their favorite athletes, male or female, their answers are an interesting window to what makes Hannah and Paige Tapp tick. Hannah pauses for a long while before throwing out LeBron James as a possibility. "He's fun to watch," she said, but "he's not necessarily my favorite athlete for his actions."
She also is drawn to Muhammad Ali, "I like his quotes. His confidence, just how sure of himself he was, kind of inspires me."
Paige, based on a video they had just seen, adopted a new favorite athlete--recently retired NBA player Shane Battier.
"Even though he doesn't score all the points or get very many rebounds, whenever he's on the floor his team gets so much better, because he's doing all the extra plays and giving all his effort off away from the ball," she said. "And that's something that's extremely important, that even if you're not the star and you're not scoring all the points, you're making your team better with everything you do and you're giving your all."
"Especially at the middle position," chimed in Hannah, making the sudden leap from the NBA basketball court to their lives as middle blockers at the Sports Pavilion. "It's not always the most glorious position. It's pretty blue collar. Holding a block and making your outside hitters or right side hitters better...."
Added Paige: "You're constantly grinding, you're constantly planning before the plays trying to make everyone on your side of the net know what's going on. You have to be ahead of the game. You have to know where the setter is setting before she even sets it, and you have to know where your block is going to be. ... You're basically doing everything you can to make your teammates better, and a lot of the times it's not super glorified."
And Hannah: "You'll probably get set the least and jump the most, but if you work hard at it, it can help your team a lot more than what shows on the stats or box score."
It's clear to see that, even as they pursue academic excellence and white-collar jobs, they've embraced their blue-collar roles on the volleyball team.
And how has making the leap from high school and club volleyball to Division I athletics surprised them?
"I expected it was going to be really tough physically, which it is, but I never really fully grasped the idea of how mentally taxing it can be to constantly be aware of your technique, and how you need to change, and breaking habits," said Hannah. "I never knew how challenging it would be but also how rewarding it would be."
"I think the most interesting thing for me was coming into this great program," said Paige. "I understood what a great opportunity it was, but once I came here I really understood how awesome it is to be able to compete at such a high level every single day.
"We have one of the most rewarding opportunities ever. How many people get to come and play in front of thousands of fans against the best teams in the country every single night? It's an opportunity to compete and battle with some of your closest friends, and there's really nothing like it. We're so lucky."
Written by Rick Moore, writer and editor in University Relations and a long-time follower of Gopher Athletics. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story was published in the January edition of Ski-U-Mah Magazine. For more stories about University of Minnesota athletes, check out Ski-U-Mah Magazine.