It didn’t take Travis Smith more than a brief look at Megan Wisniewski last year to realize she was his new outside hitter, not a middle blocker.
Wisniewski, then a junior, had been a blocker her previous two years at Forest Lake Christian High School, and not a bad one by any means. But when Smith repositioned her, there was little impeding Wisniewski’s way to dominance.
“It was a little weird at first,” Wisniewski said. “But then I started hitting the ball hard – really hard – so I liked it.”
Following her junior year in which she helped her team travel deep into the playoffs, Smith left the team.
His replacement has had as severe an impact in Wisniewski’s game as he had after her sophomore year.
When April Miraldi entered camp this summer at FLC, she knew she had an exceptional group to work with in her first attempt at high school volleyball coaching.
Miraldi, who previously coached at the junior high level and played college volleyball at Pepperdine and UCLA, was especially grateful for the fact Wisniewski had been trained as an outside hitter.
“She’s really come into her own as an outside hitter,” Miraldi said. “She hits one of the heaviest, hardest balls in the league.”
Despite the fact she strikes fear into many of her opponents, Wisniewski wasn’t always a hard-hitting volleyball player.
Although she started her career on the volleyball court early when she was in junior high at Chicago Park Elementary, it was softball and basketball that got her heart pumping as much as anything.
“I used to play three sports … they were all pretty even,” she said. “By the time I got to my junior year, volleyball started peaking. It became the most important.”
Until then, it had been softball, according to Wisniewski. She still is one of the key members of her Falcon softball team, and plans to rejoin the basketball team that won the state championship last year, but its priority has receded on the list.
One of many reasons Wisniewski and softball made such a good combination was it gave her and her father, Ed, a chance to spend time away from the father-daughter relationship as coach and player.
“It was a great way for us to spend time together,” Ed said. Although he still cherishes that time they share on the softball field, he loves that fact that she has taken volleyball as far as she has.
“But now she has developed such a passion for volleyball,” he said.
Not to say that softball doesn’t maintain importance to Megan, as she is a natural leader of the team, earning first-team, all-league honors last season with a .402 batting average from first base, but it’s volleyball she hopes to ride into college.
“It’s tough when you’re Division V, because the big schools aren’t getting to look at you,” Miraldi said. “But I do think she could play in college … she can definitely go somewhere.”
After the performances she put up in her last three games – a combined 39 kills – it’s easy to see why Miraldi thinks so highly of her top offensive player.
But to Miraldi, it’s not just her abilities on the court that make Megan stand out. It’s her ability to unite the team mentally and lead it to so many wins, which for Forest Lake Christian is not an uncommon occurrence.
“She’s who we go to when we’re in trouble,” Miraldi said. “Our motto with her is, ‘Why get off a winning horse?'”
Megan is a bit more bashful about her own skills, but she understands that she is often looked to by her teammates when leadership is needed.
“I have a relationship with everyone on the team,” she said. “I’m more or less everyone’s friend, so I try to lead by example.”
On the list of teammates who Megan says are at least as important to the team as she is is the entire back row, highlighted by team captain Brittany Gilfillan, as well as Erica Pedro and Jessica Lockhart.
One of the most important components to Megan’s game is her top setter, Torrey Haddad.
“If I didn’t have her I wouldn’t get the hits,” Megan said. “It’s more of a team effort than just me.
“If Torrey gets a good pass from the back row, she makes a good set.”
For Haddad, she says the girl who she affectionately calls “Wiz,” makes her life as setter much easier.
“She’s the only one who consistently puts the ball away,” Haddad said. “It can be the worst set ever and I’ll just sit there staring, because she’ll make the greatest hit.”
Not only does Megan make great hits, but according to Miraldi, she’s been expanding her game to the point that she thinks that it will be difficult for her not to make a college team.
“She’s broadening her repertoire,” said Miraldi. “She’s moving the ball really well now … she’s maturing as the season progresses, and she’s really well-liked by her teammates.”
As much as Megan’s impact has been felt on the team, Miraldi’s impact has been felt on Megan.
After spending time with April after she became head coach this season, Megan quickly found herself seriously wondering how far she could take volleyball.
“Travis (Smith) is the one who gave me the passion,” Megan said. “But having April gives me even more, because she’s lived it.”
Because Miraldi played at such high-profile schools, Megan has no trouble taking her word as gold.
“You look at her, and you say, ‘I want to be like that’,” says Megan. “She’s an example of what hard work can be.”
Megan, who is sending out videotaped evidence of her talent to schools throughout the state, says her dream currently is to walk on at a smaller private school, although she made it clear that just about anything at a higher level would do.
“I would love to just play college volleyball,” she said.
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User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
New season. New co-head coaches. Same expectations.