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THE GRIND: Madeleine Bertz forges her identity with Lambert volleyball
Volleyball perplexed Madeleine Bertz growing up, but the Lambert senior middle hitter eventually found her calling and a Division I future at William & Mary in the sport. - photo by Bradley Wiseman

The Grind: Madeleine Bertz

By: Bradley Wiseman

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Madeleine Bertz first played soccer, but that was never quite right. Most of her teammates were shorter, and they were faster, and Bertz felt like she was just playing to play, rather than doing something she was really passionate about.

Then she stepped onto the volleyball court and found what she was looking for.

“I looked around and I was like, ‘Wow, all of these girls look like me, and I can actually do all these things,’” Bertz said.

Bertz started with a few camps, joined a club team in seventh grade, and by her freshman year, she was on Lambert’s varsity team. She’s now in her senior year with the Longhorns, having helped the team become one of the most prominent programs in the area.

Strangely enough, Bertz’s first impression of volleyball was to dismiss it. She lived in England for two years before she started middle school, and at that point, her view of sports was limited to the most popular ones.

“I saw people playing (volleyball), and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s not a real sport,’” Bertz said. “’I don’t know what these people are doing, and I’m never going to do that.’”

But when she started playing volleyball in an organized setting, with coaches instructing her, everything made sense, and she grew to love the sport’s unpredictability.

“Every touch in volleyball is constantly changing,” Bertz said. “You can work on form all you want, but the next ball, you’re going to be sprawled out on the floor, reaching for a set that’s too high or trying to save it. It’s constantly changing, (and) every point is different. You never get bored of it.”

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- photo by Micah Green

Bertz’s 6-foot-3 frame and her long limbs make her a strong fit for playing middle blocker, and she’s mainly settled at that position after briefly trying outside hitter. She’s leading Area 5-7A in blocks this year with 81, already surpassing her total from last season.

She’s also taking more diverse defensive responsibilities this year after the departure of decorated Longhorns libero Jordyn Moellering, Bertz has racked up 171 digs so far, which almost surpasses the total from Bertz’s last two seasons combined.

“It gets me really pumped up to contribute in a way that I've never been able to contribute before and get those digs that not a lot of people expect me to get,” Bertz said. “Sometimes even I'm like, ‘Oh my god, I just did that. I just got that up there.’”

In the same way Bertz intuitively knew that volleyball was the sport for her, she knew William & Mary was where she wanted to play in college. She had been looking at schools at all levels, with particularly strong academics being a key, and had a good feeling about the Tribe even before she visited the campus. Bertz committed in April.

“The whole plane ride there, before we even got there, I was like, ‘This is where I'm going to end up, this is it,’” Bertz said. “It checked off all the boxes on the recruiting list.”

That was the culmination of another process of self-discovery for Bertz. She was a soccer player before she found volleyball; an outside hitter before she settled at middle; and when she first looked at options to play in college, she would go on Instagram and see highlight clips from the biggest Division I schools.

But those clips weren’t about Bertz, though, and realizing that has helped her get where she is now.

“It took a lot to be able to just say, ‘All right, it's time for me to figure out what's right for me, and it's time for me to put aside what was right for all of them and their processes and focus on mine,’” Bertz said. “That probably happened in the last year and a half, and that's when I was like, ‘Okay, my turn.’” And I went out and I found it.”