Weisensel gets into the swing of things at Crookston

Photos courtesy of Tony Putz Mara Weisensel prepares to serve during a recent home match at the University of Minnesota Crookston.

When 2020 Minnesota Valley Lutheran graduate Mara Weisensel committed to play volleyball 300 miles northwest of New Ulm at the University of Minnesota Crookston (UMC), she had no idea that her freshman season would be as limited as it was.

With the COVID-19 pandemic controlling most of last year, several schools were forced to cancel athletic events or entire seasons. UMC was one school that was saddled with canceling the 2020 fall volleyball season.

Weisensel, now in her sophomore year of college, was unable to see any game action last fall, but UMC found a way to keep its players involved through Zoom workout sessions and eventually in-person practices with masks and social distancing. Following that up with some spring training and scrimmages earlier this year, Weisensel said that although it was tough not playing official matches right away, she still learned a lot and took good things away from her freshman year with the Division II Golden Eagles.

“It was initially a bummer,” Weisensel said.

“You go into college and you’re expecting a big college volleyball season, doing all of the things with your team, you’re excited to get to know everybody, and then it was kind of just not there when you got there. So people are like, ‘Oh, well, was it weird for you to have that college experience?’

Mara Wiesensel

“And I said, ‘This is what I know. It’s actually pretty normal to me to not have college volleyball in the bigger sense.’ But I look back at it, and it actually had some benefits. I was able to work on my skillset in college and slowly get used to college volleyball instead of being thrown right in, which ended up being very beneficial to me.”

While her freshman season had its limitations when it came to getting to know her new team, Weisensel was quick to fit in with her new teammates once more opportunities opened up.

“I think the only challenges were not being able to have in-person contact with my teammates immediately,” she said. “There was a little bit of separation, if you want to call it that, but once we started to practice together, it felt like I had been playing with them for a long time. It gelled immediately. And this season, we’ve had new people coming in and we’ve said, ‘Wow, it’s like they’ve been here this whole time.’ It’s really a great team.”

Weisensel was the 2019 All-Journal Volleyball Player of the Year, racking up a school-record 460 kills for an MVL team that compiled 24 wins, a single-season school record. She ended her career at MVL with 917 kills, also a school record.

As easy as Weisensel made things look when playing for the Chargers, college play has been a whole different experience for her.

Weisensel (11) sets the ball.

“In high school, it’s kind of almost individual,” Weisensel said.

“Everybody has their own method of playing — how they would block the ball or hit the ball. But now in college, the coaches are teaching us all to do the same thing. When I move on the court, the whole court moves around that, which is super cool. Everybody has a major purpose and everybody moves based on what other people do.”

With a full season of volleyball back this fall, Weisensel is standing out as one of the Golden Eagles’ top players. As the team’s starting middle hitter, Weisensel is currently the second-leading scorer on the team with 75.5 points. She is also first on the team in total blocks with 20 and second in kills with 55.

Weisensel said that her college coaches, head coach Sarah Morgan and assistant coach Nick Meseck, changed the way she played volleyball.

“I would say that they almost completely changed the way that I play volleyball,” Weisensel said. “That may be a little bit dramatic, but they have changed how I hit the ball, how I block the ball, how I talk to my teammates. They’re very interactive with my life and how everything is going. It’s like a family, which is what we like to call it — ‘The Golden Eagle family.’ It’s very incredible, actually.”

the 2021 Crookston volleyball team photo with Weisensel (11) sitting in the middle row.

Weisensel also said that her coaches have also helped her block more efficiently and hit the ball safer to avoid injuries.

Improving her swing is something Weisensel said she’d like to focus on the most the remainder of the season.


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