Nov. 19, 2009

By Justice B. Hill
Special to

UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Ohio – Setter Marilee Fisher stands 5-foot-8, if standing on her tiptoes -- maybe. But that’s what she’s listed at in the Washington University media guide.

But if she were measured by her performance Thursday in the NCAA Division III quarterfinal win over Colorado College, Fisher would be taller than Yao Ming. Her play in keeping the Bears alive in the tournament made her a giant in many people’s eyes.

Washington beat Colorado College in four sets, 25-16, 23-25, 25-21 and 24-14 and advances to play Hope, a winner over Tufts, in the semifinals on Friday.

Hers was a wonderful performance on the biggest stage in women’s volleyball, and she played to the moment. That’s to be expected from a senior, right?

Of course, but Marilee Fisher is a 5-8 freshman, which made her performance even more stunning. She proved a much more seasoned player than her class ranking might indicate.

Fisher had no missteps – except in her postgame press conference. She stumbled a bit as she talked about the ups and downs of a second set that ended in a 23-25 loss for Washington University.

“With this team, I never have a doubt that we’re gonna lose,” Fisher said.

Her words drew laughter. Realizing her misstatement, she moved to correct it, and she did.

“I mean, I never think we’re gonna lose,” she said. “I have no doubt in my mind.”

That kind of confidence belies her youth, and it’s surprising to see in a young athlete who came into the season as a backup. She’s only in lineup because of an injury to 5-11 senior Vicki Blood.

She had missed part of the 2008 season with an injury, but it looked as if Blood would be fine for the ’09 season. She got hurt again before a game Sept. 18 against Division III powerhouse Juniata, and coach Rich Luenemann had no choice but to put his offense in Fisher’s untested hands.

“Keep in mind, you’re talking about a freshman setter,” Luenemann said. “Setter is the most demanding position in any sport. …Volleyball is where the ball is constantly in motion, and a ball comes up to her, and she had to make an instant decision.

“It’s easily the most demanding position in any sport, and you have a freshman running the time. Holy cow, gee whiz.”
Think he likes what Fisher has done? Well, he has. She’s given Luenemann no reason to be disappointed as she grows into a more complete player. She’s good now, but she has, she’ll admit, room to improve.

“Coach always says be an offensive player,” said Fisher, who admits she’s short for a setter. “I contribute to the offense as much as I can. I do my best to do that.”

She contributes on offense, holds up her end on defense and controls the game’s tempo. Fisher, 18, is doing all of this without letting the glare of the moment blind her.

Pressure? What pressure?

She’s playing as if cold water flows through her veins.

“I don’t feel pressure,” she said. “I just feel a want to win. I think feeling pressure takes away from your energy and makes you nervous. You don’t want to do that.”

Not now, not here … not when the school is two wins away from another national title – No. 10 overall. And, if it should happen this weekend, it would be No. 1 for Fisher, who had no clue after committing to Washington that she would be playing a central role in any of it this season.

“Not at all,” she said, smiling. “Not at all.”