After several successful years in high school as one of the outside hitters with perennial state tournament participant Kenyon-Wanamingo, Mara Quam — a 2017 K-W graduate — went through a change on the court.
She was asked to switch to positions her first year with Minnesota State University, Mankato. Moving to libero, she went from being the one to score to the one preventing the other team from scoring.
“I felt stressed out coming in,” Quam said. “I wanted to know what I was doing, and I wanted to be good at it. Even though I’ve played defense, I had to play a different position on the court as well. I was learning a new spot to play defense, that was probably the hardest part. That’s where I struggled the most.”
At the outset, it would appear Quam settled in well to her new role. Still, she said it was hard to adjust mentally.
Part of the stress came from not feeling like she could communicate. Normally an outgoing person, Quam said she did not speak up as much in her freshman year.
“When I got to college, I got a little quiet and a little nervous,” she said. “I had to grow out of that.”
Trying to figure out her role on the team at a much faster pace of play than high school added difficulty. She had some doubts, too, about whether playing libero was the right fit for her.
After some adjusting, Quam found she was able to perform well at the new position.
In 2017, she led the Mavericks in digs with 421 in her freshman year.
The next season though, Quam really broke out in a big, record-setting way. She totaled 551 digs in 2018. That led the team and the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. It also was a program record for most digs in a single season.
In the first week of her sophomore season, Quam said a switch flipped. She felt comfortable at her position, comfortable in her move to college volleyball and comfortable speaking up.
All of that came from learning to be uncomfortable first.
“Whether it was talking to people in or out of volleyball, my goal was to be the leader on the court,” Quam said. “I wanted everyone who was on the court with me to be comfortable with me and wanted me on the court with them.”
In 2019, Quam continued to have success. She was sixth in the conference in digs per set (4.73). She led the Mavericks in for a third straight season in digs with 445, which was 11th-best in the conference.
Through three years, Quam ranks third in Mavericks history with 1,377 digs and is within reach of the record of 1,741.
Like every other fall sports athlete in the NSIC, she did not get a chance at the record this fall as the season was canceled due to COVID-19. After some tough decisions, Quam decided to stay for another year and is set to compete in the fall of 2021.
“It was hard for me and the other seniors because we had the choice to stick it out and get a chance to play next fall or opt out and choose to be done,” Quam said. “That was probably the toughest part trying to figure out what my future looked like.”
Next fall, she may be moving back to outside hitter. Changing positions again won’t be as hard this time around. She feels her leadership has grown immensely. Part of that is from her own experiences early in her collegiate career and part of it is from helping the incoming freshmen navigate this fall without a season.