Volleyball: Plainfield East graduate Welsh sets for Michigan, Team USA

Plainfield East graduate MacKenzi Welsh, playing for the United States, sets the ball in the U20 World Championships.

Twelve years of hard work will set up anyone for success.

After being a standout volleyball player at Plainfield East, MacKenzi Welsh already has made a name for herself at the collegiate level.

Welsh was named an AVCA honorable mention All-American, was an All-Big Ten honorable mention selection and made the All-Big Ten Freshman Team in her debut season at the University of Michigan. She dished out 10.61 assists a set and played in all 35 matches.

The summer did not slow her down at all.

The sophomore setter represented Team USA in the Pan American Cup and the U20 World Championships. The U.S. took first at the Pan American Cup in Costa Rica and seventh at the World Championships in Mexico.

“Being a part of the USA team is an experience unlike any other,” Welsh said. “You get to travel the world with girls from across the country and form lifelong friendships. It’s awesome because these are the girls that I will play against throughout the next few years. I’m in a really good spot right now. I have loved every minute of this summer and cannot wait for Michigan to start again.”

Representing Team USA was an invaluable experience for numerous reasons.

More important than winning the Pan American Cup was losing in the World Championships. Welsh cites losing as a way to identify who you are as a player and how you can react and rebound from certain situations.

As an athlete, learning that is vital, especially since Welsh is a part of a team that wants to take her program to the next level. In 2012, Michigan reached the Final Four and last season, the Wolverines made the tournament and finished 14th, losing to Creighton, 3-2.

Welsh was a big part in her team’s success.

Being a freshman starting setter is difficult because that position touches the ball every point. Even with that pressure, Welsh had 1,390 assists, 293 digs, 85 kills and 65 blocks.

Players can have a successful first year, then struggle the second. However, Welsh doesn’t focus on her individual success. It’s all about how she’s going to help her team get better. Putting team first is key to anyone’s success.

“I don’t foresee myself having a sophomore slump because in our gym, we’re driven to beat our 14th-place finish and go even further,” Welsh said. “Everyone has bought into the idea of making Michigan a household name and doing whatever is needed to get there.”

Playing in the Big Ten helped her elevate her game so she could represent her country internationally. All season, Welsh competed against the some of the most skilled volleyball players across the country.

That’s nothing new. She always has been a highly touted player, receiving countless national accolades throughout her prep career. Welsh also has competed with the best of the best in her age group.

Some players, however, cannot transfer their success from the prep level to college. That’s because prep volleyball focuses on developing technique while college incorporates style into play. Style is what separates setters who have solid technical skills.

Her club training is one thing Welsh credits for her ability to transition from high school to college volleyball.

“My volleyball club, Sports Performance, is an amazing club that prepares us to move onto the next level,” Welsh said. “The training that we get, the games that we play and the overall preparation is unlike any other. The transition from high school to college was almost unnoticeable because of the club that I went to and the effort that I put in for five years leading up to college.”

After college, Welsh already is starting a to-do list.

One of the most important things to the volleyball star is off the court. Welsh went to Michigan because of the strong academics and she plans to finish her degree in sociology with a focus on health and medicine. After graduation, she will play volleyball professionally overseas and then complete a graduate degree.

Even though there is a lot in her future, Welsh acknowledges what’s happening now is special.

“I am beyond grateful that all of this is happening to me,” Welsh said. “It’s one of those things that you don’t think about until you’re actually doing it. We talk about this a lot. One day during the season last year, one of the other setters, Maddy Abbott, looked at me and said, ‘Our game is on the Big Ten Network tonight, this is huge.’

“It’s not something that you think about every day, but when you realize it, you are getting an amazing experience that little girls are dreaming about and would die for. I think as you’re experiencing things and going through life, it makes you more thankful for everything. You’re thankful for volleyball, for being on a collegiate volleyball team, for being on the Women’s Junior National team. It’s an amazing experience and I can’t wait to be old one day and think, ‘Wow, I did all of this in my lifetime.’ ”

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