Marquette Wire

SCHMIDT: All hail Gonyo, Athlete of the Year

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Sports at Marquette can be a bit schizophrenic. Just when you think you have a handle on what’s going on, things go all Jekyll and Hyde and take an unexpected turn.

This year, the script was flipped so fast it nearly took off our fingers. Magical performances came from the most anomalous of places, trophies and ribbons fell from the sky and victories — the most precious of commodities — piled up all around us like Scrooge’s hoarded millions.

For once, it was us with the glory and riches. And, circumstantially, we were left with our necks tied in knots, the price to be paid for all the turns and swerves that befell us. The men’s soccer team went this way, the women’s basketball squad went that way, and so on. All the while, our poor cerebral cortexes were aghast at the prospect of keeping up.

In a year of serendipitous success, perhaps the most concussive blow — keep your head on tight and bear with me here — has been saved for last.

If you flip to the page with the Tribune’s Athlete of the Year, you may be left scratching your head. It’s true, the face you see does not belong to senior forward Jimmy Butler, or junior guard Darius Johnson-Odom or senior guard Angel Robinson. Or any basketball player for that matter.

Instead, there you’ll find middle hitter Rabeccka Gonyo. She plays volleyball.

I know what you’re thinking. But despite how preposterous the notion may seem that a volleyball player could ever top anybody on our men’s basketball team that reached the Sweet 16, make no mistake: Gonyo flat-out deserves it.

In fact, and to further add to the absurdness of this season, the two other players who were considered for the Tribune’s highest distinction — senior setter Nikki Klingsporn and junior defender Kerry McBride from the women’s soccer team — aren’t basketball players either.

At a lean, agile 6-foot-4 inches of womanly menace, Gonyo is as majestic as she is powerful. She zips around the court with effortless strides, making up ground on would-be points and airborne balls seemingly instantaneously. Her long frame, most of it arms and legs, allows her to cover the court with breathtaking ease.

But it’s in the air when Gonyo is at her best.

She leaps with jet-powered magnificence, soaring high above the court and net like some sort of angelic superhero. And it’s there she hangs and waits, immune to gravity.

Then the ball arrives and all hell breaks loose. Her arm catapults forward, wailing the white sphere with malicious intent, sending it bombastically back to earth.

Any arms or faces that get in the way don’t stand much of a chance. Casualties are frequent.

It’s this rare combo of elegance and brutality that made Gonyo the most feared middle hitter in the Big East, and arguably, the entire country. Watching her play would be enough to reach this conclusion.

There is, however, statistical evidence that backs her greatness.

Gonyo, aided by those sprawling limbs, led the Big East in hitting percentage (.429) and was second in the entire country. On the defensive side of the ball she was equally disruptive, finishing her Marquette career first all-time in assisted blocks (364).

For the first time in a long time at Marquette, the supreme athlete on campus wasn’t the one dribbling a ball. It was the one pounding the ball into submission.

It probably comes as a surprise to most that there was such a transcendent and otherworldly athlete hidden in our midst. Don’t be ashamed. Gluing your eyes to the likes of Butler or Robinson or anyone else on a basketball court is understandable. Those are the players we see everywhere. Anyone else kind of sneaks up on us.

Of course, in a year such as this, when our heads were turned every which way, we should have seen Gonyo coming.

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