By Rick Assad
Two years removed from starring in basketball and volleyball at Burroughs High, Marin Grote has made a smooth adjustment to the next level.
Grote is flourishing academically while on the volleyball court is being used primarily off the bench for the University of Washington women’s team.
When a point is demanded and the team is on the ropes, Grote is often the spark the highly-ranked Huskies look to.
“College volleyball is more than I expected,” she admitted. “I don’t think anyone can be fully prepared for what college volleyball is and that’s a good thing because it makes learning the next level of volleyball – college ball, that much more fun and challenging.”
In Grote’s initial season in Seattle, the Huskies went 20-13 and lost to Penn State in the NCAA Sweet 16.
As a freshman, Grote played in 15 matches, 34 sets and started four matches in Pacific 12 Conference action.
As a sophomore, Grote, a 6-foot-4 middle blocker, saw the University of Washington forge a 27-7 record and fall to No. 1 seed Baylor in the Elite Eight.
In Grote’s second campaign, the former three-time Pacific League volleyball Most Valuable Player and All-CIF first-team pick, played in 18 matches and 27 sets and contributed 20 kills.
Grote said there is a fairly wide gap between high school and college volleyball.
“The biggest difference between high school and college would be the level of play and time commitment,” she noted. “Being at a Top 10 ranked Division I university, there isn’t much time for a whole lot besides volleyball and school work. On top of the time commitment, you are competing amongst the best in the country and you always have to be on your “A” game.”
How excited was Grote to step foot onto the court the first time?
“My first match was a whirlwind,” she said. “Coach called me off the bench and subbed me in to hit a slide after losing five points in a row. I subbed in, was told to hit a slide (my specialty) and I did just that.”
Grote went on: “Looking back to that moment, I had no thoughts and my mind went blank,” she said. “The serve came over the net, I ran as fast as I could down my route and hit the slide down the line for a kill off the libero. And that was it! The gym exploded and my team surrounded me with cheers. It was a very exciting moment. And then I was subbed back out.”
The women’s volleyball season is in the fall and wasn’t affected by COVID-19, but who knows how long the stay-at-home order will last?
Grote said the pandemic has bit into the Huskies’ winter training block and spring training.
What was Grote’s first full match like?
“It was the first away game of the season. We were playing at Oregon State University. One of the starting middles went down with a sprained ankle early in the first set and I was in the thick of it,” she said. “Being a freshman who had no college experience, I had no idea what I was doing. But, I went in and did my job the best I could and we managed to pull out a five-set victory after losing the first two sets.”
Grote continued with her thought: “I was just happy we pulled it off because if we had lost, it would of been easy to say it was because we didn’t have the right middle in and I was not okay with that being an excuse for why we lost,” she said. “After the match Coach Keegan [Cook] gave me a high five and a “you did good kid” sort of comment and I was happy. We played like a team the last three sets and that was my first time realizing that college volleyball is just so much more than volleyball.”
A match in Southern California will always be special for Grote.
“My freshman year when we walked onto the floor of USC for practice the day before the game, it all hit me,” she said. “I had made it. Growing up, my Park and Recreation volleyball team, Firestorm, always made it to at least one USC volleyball match and it was the highlight of our season.”
Grote added: “Getting our T-shirts and balls signed after the game and taking pictures was just the coolest thing,” she said. “And then to play on that same court and sign T-shirts and balls was bewildering. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, you really did it. You are playing at USC,” and it was a very cool moment to experience.”
Grote’s teammates have her back, which makes playing volleyball even more fun.
“All of my teammates are my best friends,” she noted. “We all live within a block of each other off campus and are always at each others houses doing homework, cooking or just hanging out.”
Grote believes this has had a positive affect.
“The team chemistry is unmatched and I wouldn’t trade these girls for the world,” she said. “Being able to come home after a tough practice and just goof off with these girls is one of my favorite things. Each one of them is supportive of you and is there to help you out. Especially positionally – there is a lot of potential for rivalries between starters and nonstarters and there is none of that on the team. Everyone supports everyone.”
After years of playing volleyball, does Grote have the same enthusiasm for the sport?
“Of course I’m still having fun in the game!” she said. “I am excited to go to practice every day because I have a blast playing volleyball and bettering my game. Working hard in practice is something I look forward to when I wake up every morning, which sounds cheesy, I know, but the Washington Way is to be a part of something greater than yourself and the Husky volleyball team is how I contribute to the Washington Way.”
Grote continued: “My team is a special group of girls and being around them is the best part of my day, so playing with them in practice is even better,” she said.
After being in the Great Northwest for two years, Grote knows that her college selection was on the money.
“I made the right choice with the University of Washington,” she said. “The school and team is everything I wanted from my college experience and I can’t wait for the next two years.”