By Matthew Soderberg | Sports Writer
ALERT! There is an Olympian on campus. At least that’s what head volleyball coach Ryan McGuyre thinks of his redshirt sophomore opposite Marieke van der Mark. He said that she will eventually be on the Netherlands’ National Team.
Van der Mark has been a shining light for the team this season, but before she got to Baylor, McGuyre did his best to recruit her to become a Bear.
“Coach Mac was one of the first coaches that liked me and wanted me on his team. I didn’t even know that college volleyball was a team, honestly. I almost went to a [Division III] school and was like ‘Oh, yeah, sure. I’ll play for you, whatever,’” Van der Mark said.
Eventually, McGuyre made his way to Connecticut to see her play. She said it was an absolute disaster.
“He came and had to sit and bring his own chair. I played like crap,” Van der Mark said. “I was like, ‘This man flew all the way from Texas to Connecticut, and he’s not going to want me.’ And afterwards, he texted me and was like, ‘Just come. It’s gonna be great. Let’s do this.’ And I was like, ‘Okay!’
Van der Mark has shown massive improvement over the past year, seeing spikes in kills per set (0.88 to 1.41) and blocks per set (0.38 to 0.93). The Papendrecht, Netherlands product has excelled as a starter this year, helping the Bears from the opposite position to their undefeated 14-0 record. She credits much of her success to the redshirt year she took when she got to campus.
“I had my redshirt year, and it really helped me so much, learn the game more, to get know the girls more, to get up to speed. I was just done growing. I didn’t know what I was doing with my body. I just got 6’6” and I was just like, ‘OK, what do I do with my arms?’ It was very weird at the beginning,” Van der Mark said.
Even with all the improvement on the court, her biggest contributions have come from her smile. McGuyre said that her joy is the defining quality of her play.
“The biggest leaders are the biggest servants. Marieke is always the first person when she sees somebody down to lift them up. I’m in on that group too. I can get encouraged by seeing Marieke and who she is,” McGuyre said.
Coming from a volleyball family, Van der Mark said she was practically born into the sport, playing from the time she was six.
“I truly, truly love volleyball. Like I always say, if I don’t love it anymore, I’ll quit. If I don’t smile, why would I do this. I don’t know what I would do without volleyball. It’s the most amazing […] it just makes me smile,” Van der Mark said.
And with that joy comes encouragement. She can always be seen pumping up teammates, celebrating after a good point or dancing with girls on the bench. The redshirt sophomore said that role has becoming her defining position with the team.
“I just can’t contain my own excitement. I don’t think it’s really a role, it’s just me. I just get all over the place. I get excited,” Van der Mark said. “If you just stand on the court and don’t do anything, then why are you on the court? I love being out there and being myself. I’m the same person I am on the court as I am off the court. I’m always smiling, always going up and down and everywhere.”
McGuyre said that he notices her humility every day with her play and her character.
“Her energy is great, and that really helps us sustain and it’s a key part of our consistency,° McGuyre said. “What a testament to her character where, yeah a lot of balls are going to Yossi and Shelly, and if she feels low on the depth chart, it doesn’t change who she is.”
Her play and humility aren’t the only qualities that have grown since she got on campus; her faith also began to blossom.
“I wasn’t a Christian when I came here. I became a Christian […] spring semester of my freshman year,” Van der Mark said. “These girls just had such an amazing influence on me, just trusting that I would find him eventually. Life has been amazing trusting him.”