by Vin Gallo
It was preseason of 2013 for the Springfield College women’s volleyball team. In the twilight of summer, returning players and incoming freshman alike gathered at Blake Arena in preparation for their upcoming campaign. The duo of junior setters that the team called “fire and ice,” in Whitney Miller and Molly Giannattasio arrived, poised to begin a third season of setting up the Pride’s front court attack.
However, it was at the first practice where news would break that there would be a third setter in the mix.
“[Miller and Giannattasio] developed this great friendship, and then here I am bringing in a third setter,” said Springfield volleyball head coach Moira Long. “So they called her their ‘little duckling,’ and they really took it upon themselves to teach her.”
Miller and Giannattasio looked on and spotted the woman who was primed to convert the duo to a trio. Marnae Mawdsley, setting against the wall, and constantly rehearsing the setting motion with her hands between reps.
“When we first found out that Marnae was coming in, we were like, ‘Oh man, another setter!’” said Miller. “But we really took it in as a sense that we’ll take care of her and help each other out. It was a battle every day, you never knew who was going to start and it made us better. We all played for each other.”
Mawdsley grew up in Bolton, Conn., graduating within a class made up of 80 students, at the time the largest class at Bolton High School.
In the summer prior to her freshman year at Bolton High, she began playing volleyball at Coventry Volleyball Camp under legendary Coventry High School coach Matt Hurlock. Coventry Volleyball Camp was also where Mawdsley met her future high school coach, Renee Midford, one who would have great positive influence her.
“My first day playing volleyball, [in Coventry] Coach Midford comes up to me and says, ‘You’re not very good,’” said Mawdsley. “And I was like, ‘Thank you! I’ve never played before!’ That made me a little bit mad, so I spend the summer before ninth grade trying to get better at it. I ended up being good at it, and the first day of [high school] tryouts, coach says, ‘Okay, you’re a setter.’ I’ve been a setter ever since.”
Bolton High School’s volleyball program was still in its youth, having existed for less than five years by the time Mawdsley arrived as a freshman. Like many new school athletic programs, Bolton volleyball was struggling, so Mawdsley and her friends jumped at the opportunity for a spot on the team.
Though there would be an important decision to make for Mawdsley. Her second love was soccer, as she was a goalie growing up. Because of this, there was some conflict. So much so that, on the day of volleyball tryouts, Mawdsley showed up wearing a volleyball shirt, along with cleats and shin guards for soccer. Though in the end, the encouragement and optimistic spirit in which the net and hardwood presented to her, would prevail, and Mawdsley would go on to earn a spot on Bolton’s junior varsity girls’ volleyball team.
“Meeting Coach Hurlock and [Coach Midford] – they were really supportive, because they knew I had only played for a couple of weeks, and they ended up having faith in me,” Mawdsley said. “Everyone was so passionate and excited, and the fact that my friends were going to be doing it as well really helped [to] push me to try out for volleyball.”
After securing a spot on junior varsity, Mawdsley began playing club volleyball for Husky Volleyball Club, originally out of Star Hill in Tolland. Mawdsley tried out for a regional team after playing volleyball for three months. She began on a lower tier team following her first evaluation. By the second evaluation however, she was promoted to the highest ranked regional team.
Mawdsley used this momentum to her advantage and tried out for a high performance squad her sophomore year. It was there where she met her future Springfield College teammate, Lauren Holt.
“She’s a very interesting individual,” Holt said. “At first I was a little hesitant to get to know her, but as I did, we kind of clicked right away. We’re both pretty goofy and we can read each other really well, so we’ve been friends for a long time.”
Together Mawdsley and Holt would be a part of one of the most successful Age 16 teams in NERVA (New England Region Volleyball Association) history, sweeping through each NERVA tournament that season. Such feat was quite the accomplishment for Mawdsley after being only two years into playing volleyball.
Mawdsley began to look at schools her junior year of college, with the desire to play collegiate volleyball. Schools of interest included Southern Connecticut State University, Roger Williams University, and Eastern Connecticut State University. Springfield did not appear on her radar until senior year, and even at that time, Springfield’s volleyball team did not believe that Mawdsley would be interested in recruitment from the Pride.
Yet Springfield was able to land Mawdsley over Roger Williams.
“When I went to Roger Williams – it was a really beautiful school,” Mawdsley said. “[But] the feeling I got when I was [at Springfield], even though it was the middle of winter, freezing, and no grass to be seen, and sad looking, it was still a better vibe and a better fit here than it was at any other school.”
Mawdsley did not play much her freshman year with the Pride. A minor hand injury ultimately ended her rookie year after slowly gaining minutes. In Mawdsley’s sophomore year, both Miller and Giannattasio suffered an ankle injury and a broken wrist respectively, causing Mawdsley’s minutes to become more extensive.
“[Our injuries] definitely gave Marnae a role where she was going to take more control of the offense,” Miller said. “She runs an efficient offense and does a great job at calming people down. Those are some of the things we helped her with.”
Now a senior, Mawdsley is co-captain of the team, along with junior right side hitter Kayleigh Helgesen.
“She is a character,” said Helgesen. “She does things her own way, and has an outlook on everything that’s so bubbly and yet serious at the same time.”
Mawdsley is now following in Miller and Giannattasio’s footsteps. The Pride has a freshman setter this year in Daniela Detore. Miller consistently reminds Mawdsley that she must continue what her and Giannattasio began, and teach Detore how to run the offense.
“Whit comes up to me at least once or twice a week and tells me: ‘remember, she’s your little duckling. You were mine, and now she’s your duckling,’” said Mawdsley. “I just try to be encouraging of her and give her clear, concise feedback.”
Detore spoke highly of Mawdsley’s support.
“She’s an inspiration and my role model. I just want to be like Marnae,” said Detore. “She knows what I’m thinking before I even think it. She’s always there for me and very supportive. As a freshman I always look up to her because she’s a senior.”
On the court, Mawdsley knows how to bring the best out of the offense.
“She won’t let you settle for anything,” said Helgesen. “She knows what each [of us] can do and she’s a very selfless player. She plays for the team, and is constantly thinking, and running plays through her head.”
Mawdsley knows how to keep the spirits high when Springfield is down in a game.
“She’s like our glue,” said Holt. “Every time there’s a low moment, I can always look at her, and she’ll say ‘we got this.’ She gives us confidence when [we need it].”
Long is pleased with Mawdsley’s consistency as well as her production this season.
“In her position you look for consistency, you look for a player who’s going to do their job,” she said. “And Marnae is currently playing some great defense, running the offense and leading. She does a good job of being who she is.”
Mawdsley is grateful for her friendship with her teammates. After beginning as a high school freshman among players and being schooled by the intensity of Miller, and the calmness of Giannattasio, the apprentice of “fire and ice” understands the path to success in volleyball.
“My teammates currently are my best friends, I love all of them dearly,” Mawdsley said. “I’m super thankful for [them], because without them and without my coaches, there’s no way we’d have what we have. You have to take time to learn about yourself and learn about other people, and develop an understanding of your team. That’s the best way to success – to be accepting of others and understand yourself.”