Pohlod followed Jennings’ path to Tech volleyball

HOUGHTON – Michigan Tech volleyball coach Matt Jennings didn’t need to watch any highlight tapes or make any recruiting trips to know he wanted Rachel Pohlod as his future setter.

He was so convinced of Pohlod’s ability, that she’s the first person he called when he got the head coaching job at Tech in 2012.

But it wasn’t a blind vote of confidence. It was the result of a perfect set of circumstances.

Jennings coached Pohlod for a couple months at the Pittsburgh Elite volleyball club in Pennsylvania before he officially started in Houghton on March 1, 2012. It also just so happened that Pohlod wanted to pursue a degree in engineering. Perfect fit.

“I knew she was interested in studying engineering, and I worked with her, knowing what she was capable of doing,” Jennings said. “There was no doubt that she could play at this level – in fact she was a borderline D-1, D-2 kid who, having a relationship before I got here, I knew she could run our system very well.”

Pohlod, a 5-foot-7 setter from the greater Pittsburgh area, also considered Division I Lafayette and Holy Cross, along with Clarion and Mercyhurst, but the combination of knowing Jennings and getting a solid engineering education was too good to pass up.

“(Jennings) was a big factor because I really enjoyed him as a coach, even though it was only for a few months. He had a lot of confidence in me,” Pohlod said. ” I knew I wanted to go into engineering (she’s starting in mechanical, but not sure if she’ll stick with it). That really eliminated a lot of schools, and Michigan Tech is obviously very strong in that major.

” It’s a great leap forward for me. It’s a big step. It’s a big adventure. It’s somewhere I’ve never been before.”

Well, at least she’s never lived here, having spent the first seven years of her life in Maryland before moving to Pennsylvania.

She made one trip to Houghton last summer and liked it, but she’s admittedly never experienced an Upper Peninsula winter.

“I was definitely warned before I committed,” she joked.

Pohlod wasn’t too concerned about the different weather, and Tech’s poor 2011 record (2-25, 0-19 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) didn’t bother her either. Unlike the winter weather, losing was something she had dealt with before.

“I knew when I was being recruited, (Tech’s) previous records weren’t that amazing, but that didn’t really scare me because my high school team had never had a winning record, never made playoffs, and my senior year we went undefeated,” said Pohlod, who helped Oakland Catholic High School to a 12-0 league record her senior year. “I like the challenge and opportunity to achieve greatness over time. I trust Matt, and I know what he has already done … I’m looking forward to helping any way I can.”

For this fall, Pohlod expects to come off the bench, knowing senior setter Madeline Haben has earned the leadership role. What did initially surprise Pohlod was to learn she would be competing against another setter, in her own class: fellow freshman Jonna Villemure (see Wednesday’s Tech Tomorrow story)

“I was a little bit surprised when I heard,” said Pohlod, who committed first. ” We’re going to have to compete for playing time, no matter what year. It’ll definitely drive me.”

Pohlod is certainly used to a little friendly competition as the middle of seven children to Paul and Elizabeth Pohlod. Almost everyone in the family has played volleyball at some point, which definitely pushed her growing up.

She formally got into volleyball in sixth grade, and by sophomore year she made it a goal to play in college. From conditioning through the end of the year, the high school season went from June through October, and club – she started at Renaissance VBC before switching to Pittsburgh Elite – ran from October through May.

While setting has always been her primary position, she has spent time at several hitter positions, but her height was a limiting factor there. The experience helped develop a skill set that could fit in at Tech, though.

“I actually enjoy hitting as much as setting,” said Pohlod, who worked with Jennings on tipping more from the front row, much like Tech fans are familiar with seeing from Haben.

“I’m really excited to be mentored by Maddie,” she said.

According to Jennings, the leadership of Haben, combined with the competition between Pohlod and Villemure, will only make the team better.

“It’s interesting because you have two very talented setters coming in the same class. I think one’s further along (Pohlod) than the other (Villemure), and to be transparent about that is important,” Jennings said. “I want healthy competition within the team. I think that’s where we’re going to be.”