As recently as two years ago, Mariah Mitchell never imagined she would play college volleyball. But upon hearing about the Iowa Rockets club volleyball team from Ken Spielbauer, her high school coach, she tried out and made the team.

Things took off from there.

“I don’t even think when I tried out for the Rockets my goal was to play college volleyball,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t think I was capable of it. The coaches at the Rockets made me feel that I could do anything, and I realized the love I had for the sport and wanted to do it as long as I could.”

Mitchell received plenty of other interest, but ultimately chose Western Illinois over Drake in August of 2016. She made it official Wednesday by signing her national letter of intent to play at Western Illinois.

“It feels real now,” Mitchell said. “I’ve been wanting to go to campus for a long time, and I’m excited that it’s all set (for me) to get there.”

Mitchell chose the Leathernecks in large part of their family atmosphere, and believes it’s a place she’ll be able to build strong relationships. However, she already has a strong relationship with one future teammate, Wilton’s Aubrey Putman, but the two won’t play together until Putman arrives on campus for the 2019 season.

“She’s my best friend,” Mitchell said. “She was pretty excited when I called and told her I was going there. I’m excited to play with her, but I'm a little upset I have to wait a year.”

In the meantime, Mitchell feels she can make a difference at Western Illinois, and that’s something the coaching staff sold her on in the recruiting process.

“They kept talking like they really needed me and I really felt wanted there,” Mitchell said. “I was just real excited and knew that with their help I can benefit their program.”

Certainly, Mitchell made her mark in her four years on the Wapello volleyball team. She’s a three-time all-conference player in the SEISC and was named the SEISC Player of the Year last week.

At the conclusion of the regular season, she ranked fourth in Class 2A with 466 kills and was one of three players ranked in the top 10 with less than 10 sets played at 84. Her 5.55 kills per set ranked second among players with more than three sets played.

Her 38 kills against Winfield-Mount Union earlier this season were the most by a player in a match during the regular season in the state, regardless of classification.

However, both Mitchell and Spielbauer believe there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

“I’m excited to get better,” Mitchell said. “I don’t ever feel like I’m at my fullest potential and I want to surprise people with the new and bigger things I can do.”

There’s no doubt in Spielbauer’s mind that Mitchell is going to be an asset for Western Illinois during her four years on campus. However, the veteran coach feels Mitchell hasn’t even scratched the surface yet of what she can become.

“To be left-handed as a right-side hitter is like a gift from God,” Spielbauer said. “She’s athletic, and I think she has the potential to get better as she gets stronger. She has a lot more in her and I think she has a shot to do it.”

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