Marisa Beisner completed a unique double.
The Former Tarpon won both the NCAA Division II indoor and sand volleyball nationals championships this past year, while playing for the University of Tampa.
Answering the call
However, Beisner had initially only committed to play sand volleyball when she transitioned to the Spartans program. But a propitious phone call two weeks later would provide the former Tarpon with another chance to participate in the sport she loves on a different surface.
"They had just lost one of their defensive specialists, liberos," said Beisner, who has one more semester to complete and will graduate this winter. "They were like, 'What would you think? We know you committed to sand, what would you think about playing an indoor season?' At first, I wasn't sure I wanted to make a commitment to play all year round, two seasons. But after talking to my coach at my community college and my family, it was just an opportunity I didn't want to miss."
Beisner didn't want to be faced with the questions of what might have been, if she had declined the invitation to be part of the Spartans program, and was grateful for the opportunity to play indoor volleyball at the University of Tampa.
Adjusting to the learning curve
But it wasn't easy as the indoor program went through some challenges during Beisner's junior year, and at one point found themselves with 3-10 record. The adversity proved to be an outstanding motivator, with the Spartans righting the ship, finishing 18-13. But their season would end after being knocked out in the first round of regionals.
Belief and team chemistry
She stayed busy, this time as part of the Spartans sand team, which she described as more of a partnership because there are only two players on each team, with the team making it to the semifinals of the small college national championship.
Beisner spent the summer of 2018 coaching camps with several team members, working out and improving her skill set. Those experiences strengthened the bond between the players on the team, what Besiner referred to as a different vibe coming into the fall. The chemistry was palpable making a significant difference.
"When we were coaching at summer camp, a couple of us kind of joked around that we could really do some damage this year," said Beisner. "We could really win a national championship. I think people thought we were a little bit crazy because we had such an off-season, the year prior."
During Beisner's senior year, a strong start by the Spartans indoor team, suggested their premonition might actually come to fruition. A strong run found the program undefeated in its conference, losing a couple of contests as the year went on, but it would be a matchup against a formidable rival, one that would test their resolve, a loss to Barry University.
"The loss kind of shook us a little bit," said Beisner. "Honestly, we kind of needed that loss to get our heads on the right track, to let us know that we weren't unbeatable. So, we started working harder in the gym and with the weights."
The losses served as a catalyst, as the Spartans reverted to their old form, winning a lot of hard-fought five set thrillers, but the team's success can be attributed to their mental toughness, perseverance and will to win, said Beisner.
"We just kept coming back from when we played down in Miami, we just kept coming back from unbelievable deficits," said Beisner. "We had a bunch of those games this year."
Proving the critics wrong
However, even with that type of success, the Spartans didn't receive the respect they thought they deserved after earning co-conference champion honors with Barry University. The team was under the impression that they would serve as a host site for regionals, and be seeded no. 1 or no. 2, but that wasn't the case, but it provided all of the motivation the University of Tampa team needed.
Tampa University went to Palm Beach Atlantic University with a defined goal in mind, and started eliminating teams, with a series of powerful performances, capturing the regional championship.
"It was unbelievable, we laid everything on the floor pretty much," said Beisner. "We were going to Pittsburgh. We weren't done yet. We made a joke this year, everyone was kind of like, 'they were like robbing house. They robbed us a host seed, they robbed us of our ranking.' We were so fired up. We wanted it so bad."
Winning it all
The Spartans went to Pittsburgh and defeated American International handily, drawing Washburn in the second round, said Beisner.
"They were a tough battle, they gave us a run for our money," said Beisner.
Their next opponent was a school the University of Tampa has developed a rivalry with, an institution who's won six NCAA Division II volleyball championships, Western Washington.
"We were fired up; it got to a point in the third set that I think we kind of lost our footing a little bit," said Beisner. "We were struggling. The fourth set, we were down 10-plus points and I think at that point, a lot of people were questioning, 'is this how we go out? We worked hard to come all of this way just to fold in the national game?' There were a lot of questions. Our coach was like, 'I'm not sure what's going to happen.'"
Adversity for some brings out the best, and the intrepidity displayed by the University of Tampa, demonstrated their desire and toughness, winning the fourth set and capturing their third national championship.
"We wanted that for ourselves, we wanted that for our coach, for the university, we were just so excited," said Beisner. "Tears were being shed at the regional championship game. After that one, honestly, I don't think it really hit us us that we were going to the national championship until we landed in Pittsburgh."
Beisner's senior year experiences have left an indelible imprint, providing her with memories that will last a lifetime.
"I was just incredibly blessed that they gave me the opportunity being that I was someone that was supposed to play indoors, and just stepping into the role on the team," said Beisner.
However, Beisner's year was far from done, as the 5 foot 4 inch player also captured the small college national championship for beach volleyball.
"My teammates always joke that I'm a little person, all of them are 5'10" or above," said Beisner.
Building on success
It was during Beisner's senior year in high school that she made the commitment to play volleyball at the State College of Florida, with Lonnie Wilson at the helm of the program, but he would resign with two weeks remaining during Beisner's freshman season.
But Wilson's successor would play a large role in Beisner's transition into the Division II ranks. Angie Byrd would make a significant difference in the athlete's life in her time as a Manatee and beyond.
"Coach Byrd came in and honestly gave our program a 180," said Beisner. "We ran a lot and we were in really good shape. I really owe it to coach Byrd and my community college for getting me to Tampa and for making those connections for me. They really helped me out, big time, when it came to recruiting.
"It was helpful being in that type of condition state. I have so much respect for Coach Byrd."
A defining decision
When Beisner made the move to the University of Tampa, she questioned herself as to whether or not she had made the right decision to continue her career with the Spartans, to accept the invitation to play indoor volleyball, but after only a month, she knew she had made the right call.
"These girls are for me, and I absolutely adore my team so much," said Beisner. "Even if it wasn't for volleyball, my junior year was amazing with the friendships that I've made and carried over."
The speed of the game was different when Beisner made the transition from junior college to the University of Tampa, but she worked hard to make the adjustments and was a critical component for the Spartans program.
Carrying on the family tradition
Beisner's legacy at Charlotte High School remains strong. Her mother is the school's government teacher, she has two sisters that played volleyball there, including younger sister Shelby, who will be heading to play at Florida Gulf Coast University this fall, a brother who played baseball and another sister who was a cheerleader.
However, it was while she was a Tarpon that Beisner would grow as an athlete and individual, starting her sojourn that would culminate in two national championships.
"Coach (Michelle) Dill refined me as a player," said Beisner. "She took me from being a raw player...and gave me the ability to step into the libero role my freshman year."
Beisner's parents made a series of sacrifices so she could play club volleyball in Venice, playing against many of the nation's best while in high school.
"I was extremely blessed for having the opportunity to travel 45 minutes to play for an extremely well known clubn team," said Beisner.