Senior McKenzie Mortensen leading Dickinson High volleyball teammates from afar

Dickinson High head volleyball coach Jay Schobinger captured senior McKenzie Mortensen's importance to the team with a scene he didn't even see himself.

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Dickinson High senior middle hitter McKenzie Mortensen, left, and her younger sister, sophomore Mariah Mortensen, elevate to attempt a block Oct. 27 at DHS gymnasium against Bismarck St. Mary’s. (Press Photo by Parker Cotton)

Dickinson High head volleyball coach Jay Schobinger captured senior McKenzie Mortensen’s importance to the team with a scene he didn’t even see himself.
After leaving in the fourth set of the team’s West Region play-in match against Minot High last Thursday because he thought he had been ejected, Schobinger learned later the sequence of events that led to a win in five sets.
“From what I’m told, before the fifth set in that match, coach (Scott) Miller and coach (Jim) Fahy are over putting in the lineup,” Schobinger recalled this week, “and they came back to the huddle and the kids are already out on the floor. McKenzie looked at them and said, ‘I got this.’ And she had it.”
What she had was a motivational speech beforehand, telling her teammates she didn’t want their season to end just yet; they had worked too hard for it to end that early.
Dickinson High overcame a 4-8 deficit in the fifth set to win 15-9. The victory sent the Midgets (6-16, 2-12 West Region) into the quarterfinals of the West Region volleyball tournament, where they will begin play at noon today against top-seeded Bismarck Century (22-1, 15-0 West) at Century High School.
“McKenzie being our lone senior, she’s been a great leader for our kids,” Schobinger said. “She’s been a role model and she’s embraced anything we’ve asked her to do, and she’s done it unselfishly.”
Mortensen didn’t play that fifth set. She hasn’t played much all year, but in her first season on the varsity roster, she’s understanding of how she can benefit the team otherwise.
“I get stressed a lot, but I know that it’s not my turn. My job - right here, right now - is not to be playing,” she said. “I support my team with whatever they do. I’m trying to be a leader no matter where I am or what position I’m in.”

Mortensen, a middle hitter, said she’s focused a lot of energy on making sure her teammates improve.
“She hasn’t been able to play that much,” junior outside hitter Jayde Lawlar said, “but her leadership and continuing to work hard at practice shows all of us that we can work harder no matter how tough the situation is.”
As the Midgets’ only senior, Mortensen wants to leave her teammates in a position to succeed next year and beyond.
“We’re still trying to get it going right now,” she said. “But when I look out at my team now and know that I’m the only one leaving, I know they’ll be perfectly fine next year. They’ll learn more about the game. Being a good player makes you good, but knowing the game makes you an excellent player.”
Mariah Mortensen, a sophomore middle hitter, said the team has benefited greatly from her older sister’s influence.
“She’s always pushing us in the right way,” Mariah Mortensen said. “She always makes sure we’re working hard.”
But aside from the pressures that the sport provides, McKenzie Mortensen said she’s learned a lot about herself this year, and she’s thankful for the group of teammates around her for making her final season so special.
“I’ve made so many friends this year. A team shouldn’t be about just teammates,” she said. “You have to build a friendship with them, and I believe I could go to any of these girls any day of the year and ask them for something and they would help.”
Schobinger said the team will be without one of its key components next season when McKenzie Mortensen is no longer there.
“We sit her between coach Fahy and I, and she’s calling serves, and she’s the loudest kid on the bench,” Schobinger said. “I got one good ear and believe me, I can hear her. But that’s what she does for these kids.”

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