Written by Athletic Communications Graduate Assistant Matt Ensor
Richmond, Va. – For the better part of three seasons at Virginia Commonwealth University, a pair of familiar faces have taken court for the Rams. Their presence has become such a part of the Rams' success that their jersey numbers, 11 and 8, are seemingly omnipresent out on the court.
Seniors Mariel Frey (Lititz, Pa.) and Kelsie Clegg (Boise, Idaho) have provided the Black & Gold with a little bit of everything. Clegg, the new all-time school leader in blocks, has been a wall at the net for the Rams while providing accurate attacks. While Clegg has been stuffing and scoring on opponents from the net, Frey has been a timely catalyst for the offensive attack. Both have made a knack for displaying their excellence inside and out of the Siegel Center.
Their honors and accolades give the duo an impressive résumé. Together they've qualified for three consecutive conference post season tournaments and earned conference season and tournament honors, with more to come at the end of this season. To fully grasp their impact of nearly 900 sets played, you have to go beyond the numbers.
Ferocious Blocker On the Court, Calming Force Off It
When senior Kelsie Clegg (pictured right) broke the VCU career block record mid-match at James Madison University, Head Coach James Finley saw it as a crowning career achievement for a quiet girl from Boise, Idaho. While the significance of such a career achievement can't be overstated, one shouldn't pigeon hole Clegg as "just a blocker".
"Almost all conference season, Kelsie's been number one in the conference in hitting percentage, and she's never been offensive player of the week. I think that's something that gets overshadowed," Head Coach James Finley noted.
Her teammate, and fellow senior, Mariel Frey has also seen the effectiveness of a Kelsie Clegg attack.
"As a middle in the front, she can do whatever you need her to. She does a really good job with, which a lot of middles struggle with, and that's hitting around blockers," Frey said. "She can see the court. She knows where to hit, and she can hit around the blockers. If there's an open spot, she's going to get a kill."
Part of Clegg's well-rounded game should be attributed to her goal-oriented mindset. The senior blocker is known for setting a variety of goals for herself during the season. One of which has been to develop her serve for matches. During rotations, only one middle blocker can stay in to serve, while the Libero replaces the other. Clegg made it a point of emphasis to be the middle blocker that stays in to serve and play that entire rotation. The senior has done so this season with success, as she's tallied 13 service aces.
While her contributions on the court for VCU's Volleyball program have been numerous, her presence off the court has been just as big of an impact. Coaches call her "an advocate for her teammates", and her teammates know her as "the calm leader people go to talk to". While her demeanor is quiet, calm and cerebral, she still stands out.
"The biggest thing with Kelsie is she's very intellectual. She's one of these kids that processes everything… She'll come to me and ask me things that a lot of other players won't do," her head coach gleamed.
The Timely Attacker and Consistent Role Model
While her teammate Kelsie Clegg is a defensive specialist, senior Mariel Frey (pictured below) is a constant for the VCU attack. An outside hitter with a knack for timing, the Pennsylvania native is always dependable.
"Mariel is one of those players who's not a real flashy player. She's just gives you consistent numbers and you know what you're going to get from her day in and day out. But she finds ways in crunch time to come up with big numbers," Head Coach James Finley commented.
Perhaps nothing embodies that sense of timing for the big game better than Frey's performance in the CAA Championship last season. She played lights-out in the five-set thriller that the Rams would eventually drop. Frey's career night of 21 kills and 20 digs earned her a spot on the conference's All-Tournament team. Her performance that night was of All-Conference caliber as she registered one more kill than 2009 Conference Player of the Year Holly Goode of George Mason.
Like her teammate Kelsie Clegg, Frey is not a one dimensional player. In addition to leading the team in kills and total attacks this season, # 8 can make an impact on defense as well.
"She's by far the number one blocker, in our conference, for outside hitters. A really good outside hitter, nationally, has about .6 blocks per game. Mariel is at .9. It's a phenomenal stat," said Head Coach James Finley.
Like any stand-out student athlete, Frey leads by example off the court as well. She has a reputation for her physical conditioning, which is the type of work ethic Head Coach James Finley loves to see.
"She'll stay in town in the summer and be in the best shape. She stayed last summer and the summer before because she wanted to make sure she had good years. This summer she didn't have any classes to take, but she was here because she wasn't going to quit working out. She's a great example of the kind of work ethic you would like your team to have."
What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been
By securing a birth in this season's conference tournament, the Black & Gold have nicely capped a topsy turvy season. Behind their solid foundation of senior leadership, the Rams have flipped the script on a 2-13 non-conference record to take nine conference wins and fourth place in the CAA.
Mariel Frey and Kelsie Clegg will be front and center as VCU will look to win the conference tournament for the first time since 2005. No matter how that journey ends, it will be the end of an era. The post season will not only be the end of the year for the two, but the end of their careers as phenomenal student athletes for the volleyball program.