North Dakota State College of Science Head Volleyball Coach Jane Passa always says, “Tradition never graduates.” A testament to that statement are a pair of freshmen hitters on this year’s squad who are following in their older sisters’ footsteps.
Miah Gessell, from Sartell, Minnesota, and Ally Gruber, from Belgrade, Minnesota, had older sisters who were standout teammates at NDSCS in 2015.
“They’re great kids and they’re from great families. That’s the biggest reason they came here is because their sisters had a great experience,” Passa said. “They know what it means to be a Wildcat. They come here and it’s familiar. It’s not as scary. They feel like they’re coming home as opposed to coming to a whole different environment. I think that helped them when we were doing the recruiting process.”
Mikayla Gessell, Miah’s older sister, is in the top five in Wildcat history in hitting percentage and blocks, respectively. Passa said she had an opportunity to continue playing at the next level, but chose to focus on academics. Mikayla, who now lives in Moorhead, Minnesota, will be a frequent attendee this season just like Miah was when she played.
“I loved watching her play here and I loved Coach Passa. She instructed everyone and Mikayla looked like she had a bunch of fun playing with everyone on the team,” Miah said. “They looked like they had a super good time so I thought I’d check it out, too. Mikayla always had good things to say to me about (her time at NDSCS).”
Mikayla’s teammate, Becca Gruber, went on to play at St. Cloud State after a pair of strong years at Science. The success from the pair of All-Conference hitters was a major factor in their younger sisters’ college choice. The overall experience was another reason.
“I knew that when I went to college I wanted to have fun, be in a good atmosphere and enjoy the people around me,” Ally said. “I had already kind of known what Wahpeton was like when Becca had gone there. That was my deciding factor when coming here.”
Both of the freshmen have already proven to be strong additions for the team in the two games they’ve had so far.
“The biggest thing was they were the best players on their team and they were both able to be leaders and play all the way around. That’s the big thing for us,” Passa said. “We needed to have impact players come in and replace some of the players we lost and they’re both able to do that.”
The close relationship their older sisters built with Passa allowed the next generation of Wildcats to meet their future coach before they were even recruited.
“Passa was always around and has always been so welcoming,” Ally said. “She feels more like a family friend than a coach so that’s how close-knit this whole thing feels.”
It’s early in the year, but the freshmen are happy they chose to carry on their family tradition.
“It’s been going pretty good so far,” Miah said. “I’ve been enjoying it and everybody’s super friendly here. They’re very welcoming.”
Ally added, “It’s awesome. College ball is so much fun especially when you have a great group of girls to be with. The season’s just started and it’s already going well so hopefully it just goes up from here.”