Benet coach Brad Baker had a message to his program’s freshmen and sophomores in his end-of-the-year speech this spring.
It’s not that easy.
While that is surely true, the results that Rachel Muisenga and her fellow Benet seniors have produced on the court suggest otherwise. With Muisenga at setter the past two seasons, Benet had a 51-1 record and won a Class 4A state title in 2019.
The Redwings this spring dropped just two sets, with an average score of 25-15, playing in the best conference in the state. Benet concluded a 10-0 season with a win over Marist in the East Suburban Catholic Conference Tournament championship.
In an abbreviated season with no playoffs, Muisenga and Benet maximized their accomplishments.
“I would say so,” said Muisenga, a 6-foot-1 Penn State recruit who had 231 assists, 30 kills, 17 blocks, 65 digs and nine aces in 10 matches this season. “It wasn’t exactly what we wanted, but I’m super proud of this team. It’s a great way to end all of our senior years, a great feeling. I’m super grateful to be able to do something.”
For her accomplishments, Muisenga is the Suburban Life Media Girls Volleyball Player of the Year.
Muisenga was certainly busy.
Like other high-level players, she balanced high school and club commitments under the unusual circumstances. Her Adversity club team recently took second place in the 18 Open division at the USAV National Championships in Columbus, Ohio.
“It was definitely different. I think everybody was happy to just be back in the gym. I know I was,” Muisenga said. “It wasn’t as bad as we expected. Coaches did a great job of communicating what we were doing.”
Muisenga, a four-year varsity starter, made the transition from right-side hitter to setter her junior year. While she could have been one of Benet’s best hitters, setter is the position she primarily plays in club – and, apparently, setting runs in the family DNA.
Her oldest sister, Sarah, won state championships at St. Francis in 2013 and 2014, and sister Allison played at Benet. Rachel, for her part, started setting when she was 13 years old.
“I saw that opportunity come my way and decided I liked that part of the game the best,” Muisenga said. “Being a setter requires a lot of patience and calmness on the court. I would say I’ve improved in that area.”
While Baker has other players at Benet that can dominate at five or six aspects of the game, Muisenga’s skill set is even more rare.
“There is nothing she is not good at,” Baker said. “She puts the ball in a good spot, she does it with tempo, she communicates, she leads. There are no ‘buts’ to her game. Everything is really good and she does it at 6-foot-1. There are a lot of great setters who do that, but to be elite at 6-1 is really hard.”
Muisenga and Benet were not often put to the test this spring, but there was one big exception. The Redwings played Mother McAuley, at the time 10-0 and rolling, after Benet had not played in 14 days with spring break. The Mighty Macs took the first set, but Muisenga and her teammates responded to take a thrilling three-set win.
“Having a girl like Rachel, having a girl like [Benet outside hitter] Kyla [Kenney], Rachel at times just controls the matches,” Baker said. “She makes the right decision on when to attack, to get what hitter the ball. It’s not only getting the ball to the right spot, it’s getting the ball to the right person at the right time. There are very few times the last few years I have said in my head she needed to set it here and the ball goes there. She is making the correct decision 99% of the time.”
Muisenga has felt the euphoria of being the girl who puts away a big shot, but said it’s almost a better feeling being the person on the court who gets to set up their teammates and watch them celebrate.
“As a setter, a lot of it is knowing who the hotter is, who has the hot arm, and a lot of the time it’s instinct, thinking on your feet, knowing who is going to put the ball down,” Muisenga said. “It’s about communicating and trusting your teammates and knowing who will put the ball down.”
Source: The Daily Chronicle