Dual-Sport Plieseis Heads to Lindenwood
Dual-Sport Plieseis Heads to Lindenwood
Mariah Plieseis’ path was set. The Tennessee soccer star had landed an athletic scholarship, and all she had to do was finish out her senior year at Maryville High School before graduating to the next phase of her life. So why exactly is the 18-year-old one of Lindenwood Rugby’s incoming recruits? Let’s start at the beginning.
Plieseis started playing soccer at age five, and the 5’2” dynamo ended her high school career with All District and All Region MVP accolades, as well as inclusion on the All State and Tennessee All Star teams. She committed to Southeastern University (Fla.) for fall 2015, receiving a soccer scholarship.
Meanwhile, Plieseis had started playing rugby on the side, competing alongside her best friend and soccer teammate, All American McKenzie Hawkins, since junior year. Despite the time commitment and overlapping seasons, Plieseis enjoyed her dual roles – the consummate leader on the soccer team and eager rookie in rugby. The power center helped Maryville to consecutive 7s and 15s state titles. But soccer was still her number one sport, and that’s what was taking her to college.
Until the Southeastern soccer coach was fired in December 2014, and all of the incoming recruits lost their scholarships. In the soccer world, it’s virtually impossible to land the necessary scholarship monies that late in one’s senior year.
“A month before my [college] coach was fired, McKenzie had committed to Lindenwood University,” Plieseis said of the rugby player. “So when I thought tragedy struck and started looking for other options, she and I joked about me going to LU to play soccer.”
But the more Plieseis considered such a scenario, the more it made sense, and she reached out to Lindenwood soccer coach Laurie Kaminski about the possibility of scholarship. Hawkins asked Lindenwood rugby coach Billy Nicholas to speak on Plieseis’ behalf.
“Somewhere in the conversation, he said, ‘Would she want to play rugby if soccer doesn't work out,’” Plieseis remembered Nicholas’ eye-opening query.
She considered it seriously, and when the soccer program couldn’t offer the financial support that she needed, the well funded rugby program came through. Plieseis accepted a four-year rugby scholarship, but has committed to both the soccer and rugby teams, playing with the former in the fall and latter in the spring.
“I am lucky enough to have two awesome coaches who are willing to let me split seasons,” Plieseis asserted.
Tragedy was averted, but Plieseis’ path is still angled uphill. Dividing herself between two varsity collegiate sports will be a trying affair, but the recent grad is confident that the previous two years of balancing soccer and rugby will come in handy.
“I vividly remember on some occasions having a soccer game in a different state or town, and then driving back to Tennessee to catch my rugby game,” Plieseis said. “My adrenaline is like no other, so having energy was never an issue.”
Aside from time management skills, playing both sports has reacquainted Plieseis will the role of a newcomer. Many of the incoming recruits will have been leaders on their respective high school teams, and the return to "rookie" can be a jarring experience.
“In soccer, leading my team has always been natural,” Plieseis explained. “I enjoy having the responsibilities on my shoulders, whether it is running warm-ups or looking to get the simple goal that could win us the game. In rugby, I still feel the ability to lead, just more by example. While all of these years I have been the captain and boss over McKenzie Hawkins, our roles are flip-flopped in rugby. When I was a rookie, she was now my teacher and leader. Though it is a bit different than I am used to on the soccer field, I think that just by doing my job, no matter what that may be, helps give my team the extra push we all need.”
Plieseis hasn't gone through the previous two years unscathed. Sometimes the transition between sports can my bumpy.
“I have had quite a few moments of getting my sports mixed up,” Plieseis said. “In rugby I tend to swing at loose balls out of habit and forget that rugby players can use hands [and] have caused a penalty or two. For soccer … I have always had a bit more strength than your typical 5'2” soccer player, so most would consider me aggressive. However, now that I play rugby, I hear spectators on the sidelines yell, ‘This isn't rugby, [number] 42," very loudly at me.”
Plieseis was last seen action during the South Regional Cup Tournament (RCT) in Charlotte, N.C. Playing center for the Tennessee Belles, the Maryville- and McMinn-backed team dominated the all-star tournament, defeating Georgia-Middle Tennessee (twice), North Carolina, and South Carolina 172-0.
“Playing with new players is always an interesting experience,” Plieseis said. “In particular, I enjoyed playing with the [McMinn] Gable twins because of their willingness to learn cooperation with different positions.
“I feel that our Tennessee team had a step up due to our organization,” Plieseis added. “My [Maryville and Belles] head coach, Jay Hawkins, has us run smart patterns, ensuring the whole team's best qualities mesh together from the forwards to the backs. It was very refreshing playing teams that had never seen our plays.”
The RCT was Plieseis' last rugby event with Maryville teammates - all except Hawkins. So while it wasn’t the future she envisioned, Plieseis is playing two sports she loves and attending college with her best friend – not a bad trade-off.
“I never thought rugby would become such a big part of my life and that I would end up loving it as much as I love soccer,” Plieseis confessed. “They are both equals in my head, however, I still have so much to learn about rugby, while soccer is more second nature.”