Marissa McElroy loves volleyball. And in turn, the sport has helped the St. Joseph-Ogden graduate love herself.
The 6-foot-3 senior middle blocker at Millikin University has played the sport since sixth grade.
“I love that the game has given me confidence with my height,” she said.
McElroy leads the Big Blue (7-8) with 157 kills going into two home matches on Saturday in Decatur against Simpson College at 12:30 p.m. and Alma College at 2:30 p.m.
Millikin head coach Debbie Kiick said she is proud of McElroy and the confidence she has developed during her four years at Millikin.
“She has gone from being a freshman who communicated very little to being a captain as a senior,” Kiick said. “She has really grown in this aspect, and I am super proud of her for that growth.”
Kiick said McElroy’s abilities on the court help out Millikin in all facets.
“She has a very heavy arm and is a big go-to player for us,” Kiick said. “She plays with confidence and can really score points. Also as a blocker, she forces the opponent to alter their shot, giving our defenders the opportunity to play easier balls than when she is not the blocker.”
McElroy has played whatever position is asked of her, Kiick said.
“Marissa is a person who will serve her team in any capacity that is needed, both on and off the court,” she said. “She has a big heart and serves her team well. She is successful because of her drive to be her personal best, her willingness to be coached and her ability to apply those coaching tips for the betterment of her skills and the team.”
Kiick said McElroy has matured on the court during her time at Millikin.
“As a younger player, she had a tendency to shut down when things were not going her way,” Kiick said. “She no longer does that and keeps fighting for points for our side of the net. I am so proud of her for that. It has been a real pleasure to watch her confidence grow and develop, and that is my favorite thing.”
McElroy’s mother, Amy, has seen Marissa develop during her time at Millikin.
“It has been amazing to watch her grow both personally and athletically,” she said.
Amy said her daughter’s dedication to the sport showed her that Marissa is determined and has a strong work ethic.
“If someone had told us she would turn in to an outstanding athlete her first three or four years playing, we would have thought they were nuts, but she worked so hard and made herself get better in all aspects of the game and finally it all clicked for her,” Amy said. “I admire that she’s constantly trying to fine-tune her game. She’s a captain and a leading scorer, but she never rests on her accomplishments. She is always working.”
Marissa said the goal for her senior season is to win the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin again, win the conference tournament and end the season at the NCAA Division III Final Four.
Marissa said the travel that comes with playing college volleyball is one of her favorite aspects about the sport.
“I also love the ability to compete in one of the best conferences in the country and compete against teams from all over the country,” she said.
This season, the Big Blue traveled to New York to compete in the Stevens Invitational in August. Previously, they have competed in tournaments in Colorado, Los Angeles and Seattle. In January, the team will be going to Italy and France, an overseas trip they are currently fundraising for.
In addition to challenging herself on the court, Marissa has chosen to challenge herself in the classroom. She is studying nursing and one day hopes to be a nurse practitioner.
“Her perseverance in the classroom is something I am very proud of her for,” Kiick said. “Marissa has contributed by being a strong example of the connection of academics and athletics, that you can have a tough major and still commit to volleyball.”
Marissa said her time at Millikin has flown by. But she’s grateful for it.
“I learned that four years really does goes way faster than you’d think,” she said, “so take time to enjoy it while you can.”