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Grace Marti's athletic career at Willmar High School included tears of the anterior cruciate ligaments in both her right and left knees within a nine-month period.

These have been difficult times for Marti, who graduated from Willmar High School in 2019.

“I thought to myself, 'If I do one more thing, I'm completely finished,'” she said.

She was recovering from knee injuries she sustained playing volleyball and girls' basketball, and cheering on her teammates from the bench helped, too, she said.

“It gave me a whole different perspective,” she said. “It definitely helped me learn the coaching side of things.”

After a stellar volleyball career at Cornell College in Iowa, Marti is taking the next step. She was recently named assistant coach of the Northern State University volleyball team.

“I am excited about the opportunity to be a coach,” said Marti.

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Former Willmar Cardinal Grace Marti was a standout middle blocker for the Cornell College of Iowa volleyball team for three seasons. Here is a photo of her from the 2023 season.

Photo courtesy of Cornell College

Northern State is an NCAA Division II program located in Aberdeen, South Dakota. It's a great starting point for someone new to college coaching. The Wolves compete in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, which is widely considered one of the best Division II conferences in the country.

Northern State is also a program that is running at a high level under veteran head coach Brent Aldridge. Over the last three seasons, Northern State has posted records of 19-9, 18-11 and 18-11 in Division II against some of the top teams in the country.

Willmar's Grace Marti jumps into the air for a tackle during Thursday's Central Lakes Conference game against Sauk Rapids at Willmar High School. Joe Brown / Tribune

Willmar's Grace Marti jumps into the air for a tackle during a Central Lakes Conference game against Sauk Rapids in 2018 at Willmar High School.

Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

She starts July 1. She will work with middle attackers, take her college position and be an integral part of recruiting.

“My college coach (Jeff Meeker) really encouraged me to think about coaching and continuing in the sport that way,” Marti said.

Marti, who stands 6'0″, began her volleyball career at the University of Sioux Falls, an NSIC member and a rival of Northern State. She then transferred to Cornell, an NCAA Division III school. With the Rams, she was a second-team All-Midwest Conference player her senior year and twice earned Midwest Conference Player of the Week honors. She helped Cornell to regular-season and conference tournament championships. Along the way, Marti and the Rams qualified for three consecutive NCAA Division III national tournaments.

She finished her career with 650 kills and 201 blocks and graduated with a degree in business administration.

“I just want to stay open to everything,” Marti said of coaching. “I just want to learn as much as possible and be as successful as possible.”

She's already gone through Aldridge's scouting process and learned how to file reports. She's only met a handful of players and just secured an apartment in Aberdeen. Until then, she'll spend time in Iowa and back home. Then she'll start a new career.

She says she was lucky.

“All my coaches in high school were really good and I just figured it out,” Marti said. “Everyone just contributed to everything and helped me a lot.”

“I was also very fortunate to have some really good coaches in college who pushed me in that direction.”

She says she grew up in Willmar as a tomboy, but at her mother's insistence, she didn't start playing volleyball competitively until she was in eighth grade. She also played basketball and was on the Cardinal's best teams in both sports.

“At first I didn’t really want to play volleyball,” she said.

She soon realized that she could be quite good at it. Now she is looking for her place as a trainer.

“I want to stay there (at Northern State) as long as they want me,” she said.

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