Koontz quickly acclimates to Division I lifestyle


Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics

The summer before freshman year is typically a huge maturation period for many Division I athletes. Freshman Ellie Koontz is one of the few exceptions.

“Two weeks into summer school, our academic adviser said to me, ‘I don’t know what to do with Ellie because she’s on top of everything. I have no concerns,’” head coach Ryan Theis said. “When you talk to her, everything you say, she puts it into action every time. You can tell she’s going to be good at whatever she does.”

Right now, what she’s good at is playing outside hitter for the Marquette women’s volleyball team.

Koontz, a native of Minneapolis, was a four-time all-conference hitter at the Academy of Holy Angels. As the team captain, she led the squad to a third-place finish in the state tournament.

Even though Theis never had any concerns about Koontz’s transition from high school to college, Koontz said it wasn’t the easiest move.

“It was hard coming in,” Koontz said. “I didn’t know what to expect. Coming into a Division I program, obviously top 25 in the country now, it was hard.”

Now she said she recognizes this high-profile style of play as her “new normal.”

“I shouldn’t be like, ‘Oh, this is such a big deal,’ I should more say, ‘This is my everyday routine,’” Koontz said. “At practice I have to think that these are my teammates, these are my sisters I’m playing with and playing for. I need to remember that every day and just treat it like normal.”

Koontz is a unique player on this Marquette squad because she hits with her left hand.

“I’ve always loved being a lefty,” Koontz said. “In the summer, everyone on the team was like, ‘Oh, this is weird. We’ve never played with a lefty before.’ But I wouldn’t say it’s a struggle for me. It’s a lot of fun.”

Another distinguishing characteristic of Koontz’s play is her height above the net, giving her better angles compared to her teammates.

“She probably has the highest jump on the team,” Theis said. “She is long enough with long arms (and) a good wingspan.”

As a result, Theis said Koontz has the rare ability to hit nearly any pass that comes at her.

Earlier this season, Koontz saw very little playing time since she sat behind junior Allie Barber, sophomore Hope Werch and junior Madeline Mosher on the depth chart, but now she’s embraced her role as a reserve.

“Whenever I go in, we sometimes can be struggling in the game, whether it’s an individual or as a team,” Koontz said. “I just go out there and play my game, play with my teammates and pretend it’s practice.”

Koontz said the hardest part of coming off the bench is simply staying warm.

“It’s definitely hard to be cold sometimes,” Koontz said. “Sometimes my legs are literally cold, and I’m not able to jump as high. But I just try to push past that, not think about it and just play my game.”

All three freshmen on Marquette’s squad, Claire Mosher, Katie Schoessow and Koontz, have seen a decent amount of playing time this season.

“Every day the gap from freshmen to upperclassmen has gotten smaller,” Theis said. “These three are pretty skilled and came from high-level club teams competing for national championships. Our expectation was that these kids would fit in, and it’s nice that as the season has gone on, they’ve each gotten better.”

Even though she’s almost 30 games into her college career, Koontz said she still hasn’t fully grasped the fact that she’s on the Golden Eagles’ roster.

“It’s honestly really surreal,” Koontz said. “I never imagined myself going to play Division I volleyball at a top 20 program in the nation. I need to realize it more because it’s becoming a new normal, and I think I need to realize it and truly appreciate it more often.”