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Marquette Women’s Volleyball: Mertens battles injury-prone past with positive attitude and determination

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It’s been a long journey for Holly Mertens.

Entering her fifth season as a member of Marquette’s volleyball team as a redshirt senior, her time with the Golden Eagles has been a rollercoaster ride of injuries and accolades.

Holly Mertens shows off the “face of destruction”. Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.

Mertens’s passion for the game has been tested time and time again and she, along with coach Bond Shymansky and the rest of the team, hope that the 2012 season will be the culmination of a great comeback story.

The Stanley, Wis., native was a four-year letter winner in basketball, track and volleyball at Stanley-Boyd High School, helping the volleyball team to a Division 3 state championship in 2006.

“We always tease her and ask her if she came from the good side or the bad side, the Stanley side or the Boyd side,” Shymansky said.

Mertens was selected to the first team all-state roster and named Chippewa County Player of the Year in ’06 and ’07 before choosing to come to Marquette.

“The first time I came here I just loved the campus,” Mertens said. “It was a smaller Division 1 school, which was great for me, and the facilities at the Al McGuire Center are amazing. Being able to play on one of the best arenas in the Big East was definitely an aspect I looked at.”

Unfortunately, Mertens’s career as a Golden Eagle began with an ACL tear that sidelined her for her freshman season.

When Shymansky became head coach in 2009, he wasn’t sure where to play Mertens and was uncertain about her skill set, as she was one of the players he inherited.

“She was rehabbing her knee, so I had literally no idea what she could do,” Shymansky said. “We got a few of her high school videos and I thought, ‘OK, she has fast arms, so let’s see what she can do.’”

After making 14 starts in 2009, Mertens suffered yet another knee injury the following spring, putting the future of her volleyball career in jeopardy.

“At that point we really thought it was the end for her,” Shymansky said. “We had a long conversation one night about it maybe being time to hang it up. There were a lot of tears and there was a lot of soul searching for her, but she came back to me the next night and said, ‘Coach, don’t give up on me, I’m going to find a way to get it done.’”

While her body was physically unable to perform, Mertens said she absorbed as much as she possibly could while watching from the bench. Former teammate and classmate Ciara Jones said Mertens’s growth through her injuries made her stronger than many of the other players on the team.

“Her growth has been all mental,” Jones said. “She has a lot of mental toughness from her injuries and rehab, and I know that she’s going to give everything she can. This is her chance to finally be great, so I’m excited for her.”

Last season was a breakthrough for Mertens, as she worked her way into the starting lineup as a right-side hitter.

For the second season in a row she achieved All-Big East Academic honors and was voted the team’s most improved player, notching 144 kills and 38 blocks in 65 sets.

“Last year you could see the payoff for her as she emerged into our starting lineup,” Shymansky said. “You got to see what I call the ‘face of destruction.’ She just keeps saying, ‘give me the ball, give me the ball,’ and it’s such a cool moment to witness as a coach.”

Aside from making a huge impression on her coach, Mertens made some noise in the conference as an individual and was named to the All-Big East Preseason team heading into this season.

She got off to a good start in the team’s first match against Bowling Green, as the Golden Eagles swept the Falcons in front of a raucous Al McGuire Center crowd.

After reaching an all-time low, Mertens’ love for her sport has carried her back to the top, thanks to a mindset that Shymansky said he can’t teach.

“Part of Holly’s gift is she’s incredibly positive and doesn’t let things get her down,” Shymansky said. “That’s a personality trait we as a coaching staff can’t begin to take credit for. Overall, it’s been a great maturation process for her.”

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