Mariah Grunze continues to dominate on offense, setting herself up for success. Photo by Grace Hensley.
JIA SKRUDLAND | SPORTS REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
Consistency is the key to success for Mariah Grunze.
The junior outside hitter added her name to a coveted achievement list on Nov. 5, surpassing the 1,000 career kill mark. Grunze had 990 kills heading into the match against Georgetown, giving herself a shot at reaching the four digits on the home court. Once she laid down that final kill, the team knew it — or at least the coaching staff did.
“I was ecstatic; I was thrilled,” head coach Kyle Shondell said. “We knew going into the match that she was going to be close, most likely to get it. We had somebody on our bench tracking each one and let[ting] us know. We were just so happy. Few people have put more blood, sweat and tears into Butler volleyball than Mariah. We were just so happy she could do it here at Hinkle.”
Although Shondell was aware of where Grunze stood throughout the match, Grunze herself was perplexed when the team suddenly erupted into cheers.
“It was a little bit of a shock to me in the moment, just because my head wasn’t really thinking about that,” Grunze said. “It was kind of just like ‘a kill, yay,’ [and] then when everyone was standing up, I was truly grateful once I realized what was happening and all the support that was given to me, so that was very fun.”
Grunze was not the only one who was unaware of what transpired on the court. Junior middle blocker Destiny Cherry took a minute to process what had happened before she realized what one of her best friends had just achieved.
“[At] first, I wasn’t really sure what we were celebrating,” Cherry said. “I was really confused, but once I realized what it was, I got so excited. [There’s] probably film footage of it somewhere, but I jumped on her, and I hugged her. We started jumping in a circle, but I was just so happy.”
Athletes are heavily encouraged to set goals for themselves, to give them something or somewhere to aim towards in the long run. Grunze kept the goal of reaching 1,000 career kills in the back of her mind, but rarely thought of it as being attainable. Her positive mentality and history of putting her best effort on both sides of the ball made the once far-fetched dream into a reality.
Coach Shondell spoke to what it takes for a player to reach a goal to this extent at the collegiate level and especially as a junior.
“I think that people don’t realize [the difficulty of reaching 1,000 career kills],” Shondell said. “They see so many people do it, especially at lower levels, high school levels, [that] they don’t understand that at the college level, one: you’re only playing 25 to 30 matches a year, [and] two: you’ve got competition day in, day out … It’s one [type] of the milestone achievements of college volleyball.”
Grunze’s consistency and health have allowed her to play in all 90 matches since arriving at Butler in 2021. Due to several injuries in high school, she did not have the opportunity to achieve 1,000 career kills at both levels, showcasing the importance of these two aspects of her game.
Cherry has played alongside Grunze for the past three seasons, observing Grunze’s gradual improvements first-hand. She pinpointed the aspect of her game that has put her in the position to succeed.
“Mental toughness,” Cherry said. “She has a lot of times where she can get in her own head. She’s been working on that since our freshman year, and now, as a junior, she’s one of the most mentally tough people I’ve met. It doesn’t matter if our teammate is upset with her or our coaches [are] upset with her. She knows for a fact she can only do as good of a job as she can do.”
The mental toughness that Grunze exudes contributes heavily to her success, but she extends her gratitude to her teammates because they touch the ball before she can line up a kill.
“[I] have been grateful and blessed with so many people,” Grunze said. “Cora [Taylor] setting me and all the defense, it really takes a team to even get to the point of being able to get a kill. I’m very thankful for them. It’s just a great experience and amazing for it to happen junior year.”
Grunze will get another season of receiving sets from Taylor — who, as a sophomore, reached her own accomplishment of 2,000 career assists on Nov. 10.
Before her time at Butler concludes, Grunze has her eyes set on reaching the Big East Tournament — and an even more ambitious individual goal that would add her name to the record books.
“A great goal [that] I would be unbelievably happy with is [reaching] 1,500 [career kills] next year,” Grunze said. “It’s a very far reach, but I think that it’s a great goal for me.”
No Butler player has reached that mark since the 2004 season when Kali [Carter] Veness finished her career with 1,598 kills. If Grunze achieves the 1,500 kill career mark, she would be sixth in the history of a talented program. She currently sits at 1,015 kills, putting her 327 away from taking the 10th spot in program history.
Coach Shondell has coached several exceptional athletes, but there is one characteristic about Grunze that stands out among the rest: her consistency.
“She’s good all the time,” Shondell said. “It’s tough to be a player that coaches can rely on at the collegiate level, and we can rely on Mariah Grunze. She’s going to put forth a high level of effort, and she’s going to produce as much as she possibly can every time.”