Walworth native Long a defensive stalwart for Saint Louis
Mackenzie Long almost never made it to Saint Louis University.
A highly-recruited volleyball player out of Walworth Big Foot, the Billikens weren't in the forefront of her mind when she was deciding where to play in college.
Long's parents, Jim and Teri, simply asked that she give every program a chance that was willing to take the time to recruit her. Now, half a decade later, the Saint Louis libero is happy she heeded that advice.
Long is putting the bow on an exceptional four-year college career that has seen her play in every single set since she arrived on campus. And as the Billikens swept a pair of Atlantic 10 Conference matches Friday and Sunday, she moved into the top four all-time in program history in career digs with 1,326.
"It's just been the best decision, not only volleyball-wise, but I'm also at a great academic school, and it's all been able to give me the experiences I want," Long said in a phone interview between studying for midterm exams last week. "When I first got that letter from Saint Louis, I was like, 'I don't know ...' But my dad said we had to give everyone a try that reached out. If I wouldn't have come down here, I wouldn't have fallen in love with it.
"It's crazy to think I have a short month and a half left of my senior season. It just flew by, but it's been great."
Long was part of Big Foot's dynasty-like run in the Rock Valley South Conference. At one point, the Chiefs won 54 straight conference matches, and Long was a three-time first-team all-RVC player and the league's player of the year and an all-state choice her senior season.
Long also played high-level club volleyball that took her across the country. That experience helped make the transition to the college volleyball a little easier.
She's been a staple in the Billikens lineup since the day she arrived on campus, never missing a single set--119 as a freshman, 120 as a sophomore, 119 last season and 78 so far this year as part of a Saint Louis team that is 9-12 overall and 6-2 in the A10.
"That's one thing I'm super excited about, is that I've had an impact ever since my freshman year," Long said. "I didn't want to wait around to get my chance; I wanted to prove myself right away."
The Billikens won 21 and 22 matches in Long's freshman and sophomore seasons, respectively. Last year, they made it to the Atlantic 10 Tournament title match before losing to top-seeded Dayton, a moment Long said showed how successful the team's season had been.
Saint Louis suffered through a nine-match losing streak early this season but has now won six of its last seven.
"We lost one of our best point-scorers from the outside," Long said. "So we all knew we had to step up and have a group effort to reach our goals.
"We haven't accomplished everything we want, but we still have a few weekends left and then the conference tournament. We're all feeling pretty confident going into the second half of the season."
Long also has a few weeks left to chase down some of the best defensive players in Saint Louis history. She plays the libero position, a position for the team's top defensive specialist charged with receiving serves and digging out spikes to keep plays alive for their teammates.
Long had 12 digs Sunday in a sweep of George Mason to move into fourth all-time in program history in career digs. She's averaging nearly four per set this season.
"I can't help but thank my teammates, who have really got me to where I am," Long said. "The girl who holds the dig lead right now is at 1,685. Going into my senior year, I'm like, OK, I want to beat her. I've got about five weeks left.
"Getting a dig, the feeling is awesome, and you can see your other teammates be excited for you, and them getting a kill, that's just ultimately the best feeling ever."
Jim and Teri have been able to make the 5-plus-hour drive to St. Louis to see Mackenzie's home matches throughout her career, and they've trekked to many of the East Coast schools that make up the A10.
"My parents have handled everything so well and have always been there to support me," Long said. "I would not be in this situation if it wasn't for them. And my coaches and teammates, too."
While she's got about a month left in her collegiate volleyball career, Long hopes the sport continues to be a big part of her life. She's coached club volleyball for 15- and 16-year-olds the past couple years, and after graduation she will pursue a track to become a college volleyball coach.
"The perspective you get of playing and coaching at the same time is unbelievable," Long said. "You see things your coaches are trying to teach you to do and you're trying to teach your girls, and it just clicks.
"That's my goal now. I'll have one more spring season coaching here and hopefully figure out what I'm going to do."
For now, that can wait.
Long has a long and illustrious career to wrap up at Saint Louis.