Girls Volleyball: MacKenzi Welsh setting tone at Plainfield East
By Tim O’Brien For Sun-Times Media September 16, 2013 9:16PM
MacKenzi Welsh, of Plainfield East. | Gary Middendorf/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 18, 2013 6:17AM
As a freshman making her varsity debut last season, Plainfield East’s MacKenzi Welsh wasn’t nervous.
Getting there, though, she certainly was.
“Before our first game, our setter, Allison Bowbin told me, ‘OK, this is your first varsity match ... ’ so I told her to shut up,” Welsh said with a laugh. “ ‘Stop talking to me! I’m going to get nervous!’ so I pushed her away from me.”
A freshman making the jump from eighth-grade volleyball to starting on the varsity in high school? Some nerves, some butterflies, certainly seem justified. For Welsh, though, the move was no problem.
Welsh flourished as a freshman for East in 2012, racking up 254 kills, 237 assists, 62 blocks and 33 aces in earning all-Southwest Prairie and All-Area honors. She also was named team MVP.
Just a freshman? Welsh certainly didn’t play like it.
Three weeks into the 2013 season, Welsh is looking to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. With sophomore Kelly Grba sharing setting duties with Bowbin, Welsh can cut loose hitting.
The 6-foot-2 sophomore is a setter on her club team, SPVB 15 Elite.
“She loves it,” East coach Emily Tonon said. “Setting year-round doesn’t give the chance to be a hitter. She can really focus on hitting, and that’s one of her passions. MacKenzi is at ease because she’s always wanted to hit.”
From setter to “settee,” Welsh is ready for the challenge.
“It especially helps because as a hitter I know where I want the ball,” Welsh said. “Now I can feel where other hitters want it, too, and am able to put the ball in that spot for them.”
Welsh will need to be a team leader for an East squad with a good mix of seniors and non-seniors. The buzz in the hallways at Plainfield East is there, and the Bengals are noticing.
“We’ve been told that in the eight years the school has been open, we’re the most talented team the program has had,” Welsh said. “We have that as a confidence booster to go as far as we can.”
At the same time, the Bengals know overconfidence could derail things just as quickly.
“There’s always a target on your back when you know you’re good so we all try to stay humble,” Welsh said. “That’s the biggest thing.”
Early in her sophomore campaign, Welsh is getting interest from some premier Division I programs, including Penn State, Texas, Florida, Michigan and Michigan State. That decision is for later though. For now, she just wants to play volleyball.
“I’m not a captain, but the coaches have asked me to be a leader,” Welsh said. “I have the authority on the court to say what I need to say to help get the team going, help push the team in the right direction.”