Patience certainly paid off for Washington volleyball player Marin Grote, who has become one of the best middle blockers in the Pac-12, if not the country.
But that doesn’t mean being patient was easy.
The 6-foot-4 Grote was a volleyball and basketball star at John Burroughs High School in Burbank, Calif., and was one of the nation’s top volleyball recruits in the 2018 class, ranked No. 20 in the PrepVolleyball.com Senior Aces list.
But with established middle blockers ahead of her when she arrived at UW, she played sparingly her first two seasons. She emerged as a starter last season, and played her best in the NCAA tournament, helping lead her team to the Final Four.
Washington coach Keegan Cook said Grote has been even better this season for the No. 12 Huskies (16-4, 9-3 Pac-12), who had a nine-match winning streak snapped with a loss at UCLA on Sunday.
Washington looks to start a new winning streak with home matches against Arizona State on Friday and against Arizona on Sunday.
The Huskies know they can count on Grote, who never lost her resolve while not playing as much as she might have liked her first two seasons.
“She was obviously a very highly recruited player and someone we were really excited to get a commitment from, but she joined a team that was pretty deep at her position, which is a challenging situation,” said Cook. “Lots of players struggle with that, and what I will always remember about Marin was her discipline and her patience.
“She was never content to not be starting in her early years, but she never deviated from the path of becoming a really dynamic player. A lot of people in her circumstance, being behind a couple of experienced middle (blockers), would have handled it different. Especially today, you might see kids (in that situation) hit the transfer portal if they couldn’t play right away.”
Grote said she never considered transferring, because “I knew UW was the school for me, even when I wasn’t playing.
“When I was being recruited, I really wanted a program that valued me as more than an athlete and had strong academic goals and that is what I felt here on campus,” she said. “When I stepped on campus, I felt valued as a whole person — more than just an athlete — which is something I hadn’t felt at a lot of universities. I think that’s what sealed the deal for me, and it was a Pac-12 school, which was a goal for me (to play for) since I was a little girl.”
Grote admitted that it was tough not playing much as a freshman.
“I did have a hard time with that, but it’s part of the learning cycle as a student-athlete,” she said. “You can’t come in and be top dog right away. You wouldn’t grow and get better as an athlete that way, or as a person. I actually learned a lot about how to be more of a team player by sitting out those years and learning to work with my team.”
Grote was ready when moved into a starting role last season. She was fifth on the team in kills with 117 and had the highest attack percentage (. 331) on the team among players with more than 20 kills.
After UW swept Utah last March, Grote was named Pac-12 offensive player of the week, the first Husky middle blocker to win that award since Lianna Sybeldon in 2015.
But it was during the NCAA tournament when Grote really took off.
“I thought the tournament was the coming-out party for her,” Cook said. “We went to Marin in some of our biggest moments, for some of our most critical swings in the fifth sets, and she delivered.
“It was really a launching-off point for her. She came back from that and said, ‘I want to be an All-American.’ That was her response to what she had experienced.”
Said Grote: “Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be an All-American. I want to do my best for the team and if that happens as well, that would be awesome.”
Cook said there is a big difference in saying you want to be an All-American and doing what it takes to become one, and he said Grote is on the right path.
“What she has showed us this fall was that she had a plan,” Cook said, “She has been working diligently toward it, and is having the best year of her career.”
The numbers prove that. She is third on the team with 171 kills, second in kill percentage (. 390) and first in blocks with 86.
“She is certainly known for her offensive abilities but she is definitely not a one-way player,” Cook said, “She has had plenty of matches where she has been a defensive force for us.”
So what would Grote rather have — a kill or a block?
“A block is so gratifying because you work all game long to be in the right spot and to be across at the right time,” she said. “I think, for me, getting a kill is easier, because it’s more in my control, and I think a block is more gratifying.”
Washington is in second place in the Pac-12 at 9-3, one game behind UCLA, with eight matches left in the regular season. Cook said the Huskies can’t afford another loss if they want to overtake UCLA, and a strong finish might allow UW to host the first two weekends of the NCAA tournament.
Cook knows he can rely on excellent play from Grote, who plans to return for a fifth season next year.
“Her consistency is probably what defines her — her consistency in practices, her consistency in matches, her durability,” Cook said, “You know what you are going to get 90% of the time, which is really difficult to do at this level.”