By Rick Assad
Playing volleyball has allowed Marin Grote to experience the sport at three distinct levels and they are Burroughs High, the University of Washington, Sigorta Shop in Turkey and most recently, the Grand Rapids Rise of the newly formed Professional Volleyball Federation.
With each step and stop there have been important lessons, and each have been hugely beneficial to her development.
“My games are totally different from high school,” said Grote, an outside hitter for the Bears where the 6-foot-4 athlete was a three-time Pacific League Most Valuable Player and an All-CIF first team pick. “I am not only a stronger hitter and blocker, but I am a more strategic player.”
Grote, a middle blocker in college, talked about how she analyzed the game which in turn helped her grow as a player.
“I know the opponents’ tendencies and use that to my advantage when blocking and I always know what shots are open when I am attacking,” she said. “In high school I just went with whatever worked, in college I had to learn how to be the best because everyone was the best in college. My game now is more methodical and strategic.”
Grote redshirted her freshman season in college and was named All-Pacific 12 Conference during her junior and senior seasons and was an American Volleyball Coaches Association All-Region pick for three seasons.
“Looking back, playing for the Huskies’ was one of the best decisions I have ever made,” she Grote, who was second on the team with 297 kills as a senior. “Not only were we a successful program with a Final Four appearance, but the growth I also went through as a person is something I am grateful for. The coaching staff of Keegan Cook, Leslie Gabriel, and Jason Mansfield are a once in a lifetime coaching staff who care about you as a person and a player. I learned several life lessons both on and off the court that I will carry with me.”
Being a member of the University of Washington team has meant everything and it’s added a sense of being something bigger than herself.
“I felt like I truly belonged to the UW team some time after my first season back in 2018. The team and coaches always make sure their new players are welcomed with open arms, but I also had to let them in,” Grote explained. “I had to learn how to be a part of this new team and to learn how to put my pride aside.”
Grote, a decorated prep hoopster for four years, added: “This team showed me how to be a team player in the truest sense and that is why we were a successful team. Being a college athlete, every action you take is a reflection of your commitment to your sport and teammates,” she said. “Every meal, workout, class session, and good night’s rest is a part of being a student-athlete and the best of the best take every opportunity to prepare their body for their sport. Once I learned that I truly wanted to be the best and was able to adopt this mentality, I truly felt part of the UW team because I now had a greater understanding of the word team. All of my actions were for the team and all of theirs were for me. Together, we created an incredible experience that is only possible when everyone invests into the team.”
Grote graduated from college in 2022 and then turned professional, signing with a team in Turkey, before returning to the United States where she is playing for the Grand Rapids Rise.
“Playing in Turkey was a very challenging experience. I graduated in December, hired an agent, and signed with my team, Sigorta Shop in Turkey in mid-January which was the halfway mark of the professional season,” she pointed out. “The Turkish League is one of the best in the world and getting to compete against world class players was a very cool experience. You can just feel how good they are when they step on the court. However, Turkey itself was a big culture shock for me. I did not know the language before I went, and I was only able to pick up a little when I was there. The style of volleyball is also very different between college, professional, and professional in Turkey. To me, the Turkish volleyball mentality was whatever works whereas in college it was a very strict way of playing volleyball that was backed up by data. I am grateful for what I learned in Turkey, but I will not be returning.”
Getting to play in the States was worth the wait for Grote, who now lives in Seattle full time and visits her parents, Laura and Paul in Burbank, a few times during the year.
“Playing volleyball in the U.S. is something I am excited for, especially after having a tough time in Turkey. I am playing for Pro Volleyball Federation’s (PVF) Grand Rapids Rise – a brand new league and team,” she noted. “This is the inaugural season for PVF and I am glad to be a part of it. So far, my experience has been wonderful with my new head coach, Cathy George and the league itself. But, that is about it. It is a brand-new league and things are just getting started.”
Though Grote has turned professional, it wasn’t foremost on her mind.
“I did not think about playing professional volleyball until my sophomore year of college. My plan was to play my four years and then go to law school,” she said. “However, once I got there and players older than me entered the professional world, I became more interested. I then always thought I would go pro, but actually going pro and saying you plan to are very different.”
In her senior season, Grote became more focused on a professional career.
“My fifth year at UW I started getting calls from agents about pro teams before the college season had even begun and that is when I knew it was real,” she said. “Now, I plan to play pro for as long as I can and I am fully invested in the American Leagues.”
Tackling the hardwood and the books isn’t easy, and it wasn’t for Grote.
“College volleyball was more than I ever thought it would be. Not only is the playing field on an infinitely higher level, but it is so much more than just a sport,” she said. “Volleyball was quite literally my life – and I loved every second of it. These girls and coaches are now my lifelong friends and will always be people I can count on. The head coach actually took a new job at Minnesota, but I still called him for advice when I was struggling in Turkey, and he helped me through some of the tough times. I even reached out to a former UW teammate for help because she was also playing in Turkey. The bond I made with my college volleyball team is unbreakable. And how we compete on the court will always be a part of who I am. I did not expect to be so invested in the UW team – not that I planned on giving less than my full efforts for the team – but it was so much more than I ever could have expected in a good way. I am grateful to UW for my time there and wouldn’t trade my experiences for the world.”
Grote, whose younger sister Lydia, a former Burroughs volleyball star and onetime UC Berkeley volleyball player and now a member of the University of Minnesota where she has two seasons remaining, was assisted along the way by so many and they’re one reason why she was able to grow and glow as a person and as a player.
“I relied on my teammates for everything. My class of volleyball players, Ella May Powell, Shannon Crenshaw, Claire Hoffman, and Sophia Summers (actually a year younger) were my closest friends and I came to them with everything,” she said. “From my relationship with my then boyfriend and now fiancé to iterations with coaches and players on the court, I asked them for advice, help, extra training sessions, and coffee dates to get my mind off of volleyball. We all relied on each other for help and that is what makes UW so special. I could go to any one of my teammates despite their age and experience and they would offer me the best help they could.”
Coming back to Southern California to face USC and UCLA was something unimaginable to Grote, but it became a reality.
“Playing at USC was a special event because that is where I grew up watching college volleyball. My Burbank Parks and Recreation team would go to USC games so we could see a higher level of volleyball. Stepping onto the USC court for the first time as a college athlete was a surreal moment,” she said. “I had a moment of gratitude and excitement because my thought to myself was, “Wow, I made it.” Playing at USC was always special because of the memories I have growing up here. Also, all of my friends and family came to the USC and UCLA games. Seeing a whole cheering section of people was important to me and it makes you feel so loved. The SoCal games are some of my favorite games I played in college.”
Grote’s final collegiate campaign was memorable and also productive with matches at Washington State on September 21, at UCLA on September 25, at Arizona on November 11 and at home against USC on November 23.
“I am very happy with how I played in my last season, and I competed hard in every match, but statistically these are my best matches,” she recalled. “The Turkish matches are impossible to find, but I played well in Aydin versus Sigorta and Galatasaray versus Sigorta.”
Reflecting on her career that included six years on a club team, Grote has gained a wealth of experience and thrills along the way, and it hopefully will continue to get even better.