HOUGHTON - One freshman recruit for this fall chose Michigan Tech over the University of Minnesota ... but the sport was not hockey.
Sarah Rasmussen, a 5-foot-3 volleyball libero/defensive specialist, joined the Division II Huskies over the close-to-home Division I Gophers.
"I wasn't really going to play much there," admitted Rasmussen, who was still sought after by a few D1 schools. "My family is a big engineering family and I knew I wanted to do chemical engineering. That's what I'm going to go into and it's a great school for that."
Stephen Anderson/Daily Mining Gazette
Freshman defensive specialist Sarah Rasmussen passes a volleyball to a teammate during a drill at Michigan Tech’s first fall practice of the season Monday afternoon at the Student Development Complex Gym.
It's the best of both worlds for first-year head coach Matt Jennings in getting a student-athlete who fulfills both parts of that word.
"She comes with a lot of talent, a great attitude and a great academic record that is a plus on all three major fronts," Jennings said.
In terms of talent, she was team captain for two of three varsity seasons on Chanhassen High School's 2011 Missota Conference Championship team that finished with a 21-5 record. She earned three-all conference awards during her time there, having played her freshman year at Chaska High School before Chanhassen High School was established in 2009. She also played for the elite national-level Minnesota One club volleyball program all four years during varsity.
"High school was every day after school until about 6, then go home, do homework, get some food, sleep, and then for club it was just two days a week, but it was a half-hour drive, so it was kind of an all-night event," she said. "It's fun and it was worth it."
She's played volleyball competitively since the fifth grade and has been a defensive specialist since freshman year of high school when her stature limited her effectiveness as a setter.
In terms of attitude, she comes in with a relentless approach to her position, but an open mind as to her immediate role: "I love the mindset of it that nothing hits your floor and it's fun just going for every ball," said Rasmussen, who will be competing with junior Tessa Mauer, sophomore Lisa Diduch and fellow recruit Jacqueline Aird for playing time. "We have a lot of (defensive specialists), but we'll have a lot of different options. Whatever coach wants for me, that's what I'll do."
In terms of academic record, the chemical engineering interest could speak for itself, but she was also No. 1 in her high school graduating class, earning academic all-state accolades in the process.
Rasmussen was initially recruited by former head coach Orlando Gonzalez, but most of the recruiting process was handled under Jennings and his assistant Nic Paquiz. There wasn't much initial documentation on her when Jennings arrived, but when he went to Minneapolis to watch her play, he was sold. Rasmussen, whose father is a chemical engineer at 3M in Minnesota - "I got that from him I guess," she said - was sold on Tech shortly after a campus visit in late March and early April.
"It was my first time (visiting Houghton) ... but I really liked the school," said Rasmussen, whose other hobbies include softball and outdoors-related activities. "I watched the team practice and met with the coaches. ... It's a great group of girls. They all seem to get along really well, and they've been really inviting including (the freshmen) in everything."
The team just started fall practice Monday, and it's immediately clear Jennings and Paquiz have set a high standard of performance, which started to yield results even in the spring practices.
"There's no doubt that looking at last year's statistics, our serve-receive needs to improve for this year, but even without Jacqueline and Sarah this spring, I saw measurable improvement in our passing," Jennings said. "With Jackie and Sarah added, it will create healthy competition at the libero position. There's no doubt at points in matches we'll be making substitutions."
He said the job is Mauer's to lose, but the competition will only push all the defensive specialists, and in Jennings mind, hopefully the entire team to new heights as it looks for a bounce-back season.
"We're going to have to learn how to win again, but when you have fresh faces like (Rasmussen) who have felt what that feels like, it can only add perspective," Jennings said. "Sarah is just a great fit for our program ... and that was a natural attraction for her, being a strong engineering school and this idea of a new way forward with the volleyball program."