by Larry Scott, Concordia College
Sometimes small is big enough.
At 5’9”, former Osseo High standout Rachel Wiinanen fills a critical role on the Concordia College Cobber volleyball team. She is one of two seniors hoping to lead the team to another successful season this fall.
She also brings patience and reliability to Concordia volleyball defense, which she leads with a team-high 4.70 digs per set.
“Rachel is a great team player, always positive and upbeat. You can count on her to be a giver, the team comes first. She’s really worked hard to improve her skills, and has the knack of being in the right spot at the right time. That’s especially important for young team,” said Concordia head coach Tim Mosser.
While graduation stripped Concordia of some reliable starters, Wiinanen is confident the latest edition of the team can make another serious run at the conference title. Post-season play remains a priority as well.
“We have a lot of new players, and there are only two seniors, Danielle (Loomis) and me,” Wiinanen said. “We want to get the freshmen involved and create the same atmosphere we felt when we came in.”
Wiinanen, who helped lead Osseo to the state tournament in her senior year, enrolled at Concordia College in 2009 after considering several options. She had a family connection with the University of Minnesota Duluth and considered several schools close to her home in Maple Grove.
“I didn’t know much about Concordia until my junior year, but when I looked into it, it seemed like a good distance from home, and something seemed just right,” Wiinanen said. “I knew if I stayed in the MIAC my family could go to a lot of my games, too.”
She quickly found a home in the Cobbers’ elite program and appreciated the healthy atmosphere.
“When you come in they (veterans) immediately set the tone, ‘this is how we play.’ You have to rise to those expectations,” she said. “It’s still fun; it’s not a harsh or stressful environment. We work hard, but we have fun and we do well.”
Still, adjusting to college volleyball after she left the Oriole nest at Osseo High School took some adjustment.
“Getting used to the fast the pace of the game was important,” she said.
Wiinanen noticed a spike in the level of intensity as well.
“If you play in college you play because you’re competitive and you love the sport,” she said. “In college it’s more of an event; in high school it’s more of a hobby.”
In addition, she found herself more concerned about the defensive side of the game.
“I played a couple of different positions as a freshman before I landed at libero,” Wiinanen said. “I had always been a hitter in high school, and you get your thrills off a big kill or big block. Now, that’s not that’s my main focus, I’m more excited for my teammates when they get them. You get excited when your pass sets up the kill, or when you get the big dig. You get to do the dirty work, but it’s fun.”
Now, nearly four years since she first signed on with the Cobbers, Wiinanen is filling a critical leadership role.
Defending champions of the MIAC, Concordia launched its 2012 league campaign with a pair of wins over Hamline and Bethel. Wiinanen, and the rest of the Cobbers, will hope to continue that success the rest of this season.