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Blocking it out

by Matthew Ondesko: Managing Editor

It’s been awhile since Marie Rhodes so existence action on the volleyball court. Between COVID, and not getting in a lot during her first season, Rhodes didn’t see much action since her time at St. Mary’s High School in Lancaster.

That all changed last season when Rhodes was a big part of what Le Moyne wanted to do. She appeared in 21 matches and 76 sets, and established herself as a key part for the Dolphins as they started to make their transition form Division II to Division I.

“This past season was truly a challenge for me. With the disruptions caused by Covid-19, it had been a while since I had experienced intense and organized action on the court. Getting back into the groove was no easy task. It took a lot of dedication, hard work, and perseverance to regain my rhythm and adapt to the college-level competition,” stated Rhodes. “Initially, there were moments of doubt and frustration, but I used them as fuel to push myself further. With each practice and game, I gradually rediscovered my abilities, honed my skills, and regained my confidence. It was a process of relearning and adapting, but the experience has made me stronger and more resilient as an athlete.”

It’s never easy for a player like Rhodes to have to sit awhile, but that’s exactly what happen. Besides losing a season to COVID, Rhodes also contracted the virus as well. She saw herself getting frustrated at time. Frustrated at the fact she got the virus, but also not being able to practice the sport she loves, and to hang with her teammates.

It just didn’t take a toll on Rhodes physically, but mentally too. Rhodes knew getting frustrated wasn’t going to help the situation. Instead, she put all her focus on getting better both mentally and physically, and getting back on the court as soon as she could.

“Not playing a lot last year was incredibly tough for me, both physically and emotionally. The impact of COVID-19 went beyond just the disruption of volleyball. In the spring semester of my freshman year, I contracted the virus and unfortunately developed Myocarditis as a result. Dealing with the physical toll of the illness was challenging enough, but it also meant being unable to participate fully in the sport I loved,” explained Rhodes. “There were moments when frustration overwhelmed me, as I watched my teammates on the court while I was sidelined. However, I knew that getting frustrated wouldn't change the circumstances. Instead, I focused on my recovery, working closely with medical professionals and following a strict rehabilitation plan. I found solace in supporting my team from the sidelines, attending practices, and offering encouragement to my teammates. Their success became my motivation to keep pushing forward and make a strong comeback when the time was right. It wasn't easy, but staying positive and maintaining a determined mindset helped me navigate through the challenges and emerge stronger than before.”

Getting stronger is exactly what Rhodes has done as she anchors the middle of the line for the Dolphins. Being a middle blocker is not as easy job. She needs to make sure the at communication is at the top of the agenda.

Rhodes needs to make sure her, and her teammates, are all in sync when they go to jump to make the block on the other team. It takes a lot of practice to get everything right. Footwork is also key to setting up a good block.

Without good footwork, and mechanics, everything can go wrong at the front of the net.

“As a middle blocker, my role on the team is indeed crucial. Working with the rest of the girls up front and timing our jumps correctly is essential for an effective block. It requires a strong sense of communication and understanding with my teammates. We need to be in sync, reading the opposing team's hitters and anticipating their attacks,” stated Rhodes. “Timing our jumps at the right moment is key to shut down the opponent's offense and create opportunities for our team. It takes practice and repetition to develop that timing and coordination. We work on it tirelessly during training sessions, focusing on footwork, body positioning, and reading the setter's cues. It's an art of anticipation, knowing when to commit to the block and when to transition to an attack or cover a hitter. The chemistry we build as a front line is vital to execute solid blocks and disrupt the opposing team's rhythm. It's a collective effort that relies on trust, communication, and a shared commitment to excel in our roles.”

Rhodes continues to work on her game as the school made the jump to Division I. When Rhodes was recruited to Le Moyne, she did so as a Division II athlete. A lot has changed over the past couple of season.

Making the jump to DI just doesn’t mean facing tougher teams night in and night out. It also means changing how one goes about practicing every day. Rhodes knew to be able to compete at the top level she would have to attack the offseason harder than she has every before.

“When I came to Le Moyne, we were competing at the Division II level, and now we have made the move to Division I. The transition from DII to DI as a college athlete brings its own set of challenges and adjustments. Initially, there is definitely a shift in mindset. Moving up a level means facing tougher competition, more demanding schedules, and higher expectations. It requires a greater level of dedication, commitment, and mental fortitude,” stated Rhodes. “Personally, I have to adapt to the increased intensity and competitiveness of DI athletics. The expectations of coaches, teammates, and even myself become more demanding. There is a sense of stepping into the unknown and proving oneself all over again. However, this transition also presents incredible opportunities for growth and development. It pushes me to strive for excellence, to push my limits, and to constantly improve my skills. While the challenges are greater, the rewards and sense of accomplishment are also more fulfilling. The transition to DI has forced me to raise my game, to be more disciplined, and to embrace the new level of competition with enthusiasm and a resilient mindset.”

Rhodes has been used to playing against top competition ever die high school. St. Mary’s is a powerhouse in Western New York volleyball. The Lancers play a very tough schedule every single year to get them ready for a run at a Monsignor Martin title, and possibly a run at a state title.

Being able to play that type of competition has helped Rhodes get ready as she, and her teammates, made the jump to the next level.

“Playing for the powerhouse program at St. Mary's not only prepared me for collegiate-level volleyball but also instilled in me the importance of a strong team culture for on-court success. Under the guidance of Coach Donnie Pieczynsk, his coaching style transformed my game and mindset, pushing me to new limits while emphasizing the significance of teamwork, communication, and trust among teammates,” stated Rhodes. “The high level of competition I faced challenged me to adapt, make quick decisions, and perform under pressure, but it was the incredible teammates I played with for all four years that fostered a strong sense of unity, accountability, and camaraderie. This experience taught me that individual talent alone is not enough to achieve success on the court; it is the collective effort, shared goals, and a supportive team environment that lead to victories and accomplishments. The emphasis on team culture at St. Mary's not only prepared me for the challenges of college volleyball but also shaped my understanding of its critical role in achieving success at the collegiate level.”

Off the court, moving to DI status bring some of those challenges that many people don’t see. A student-athletes time is wrapped up a little more, with more practices and games. Students, more and more, are making sure to take care of themselves when it comes to their mental health.

They are making sure they are taking time out for themselves to better cope with everything a student-athlete has going on in their lives.

“As a student-athlete, managing everything that goes along with being both a student and an athlete can be incredibly challenging and overwhelming at times, especially when it comes to mental health. It's crucial for me to prioritize self-care and establish a well-rounded routine that includes regular exercise, sufficient sleep, healthy eating, and dedicated time for relaxation and rejuvenation,” explained Rhodes. “Additionally, I find it beneficial to openly communicate with my coaches, teachers, and support network about any struggles or stressors I may be experiencing. Seeking professional help, such as therapy or counseling, has also been instrumental in helping me navigate and manage the pressures that come with being a student-athlete. By being proactive in addressing my mental health needs and finding balance in my daily life, I can effectively cope with the challenges and strive for both academic and athletic success.”

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