Larsen a 2-sport All-American at Winona State

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Oconto Falls native preps for senior seasons
By: 

Greg Bates Times Herald Correspondent

McKenna Larsen has always been a phenomenal athlete.

At Oconto Falls, she was a three-sport star. She couldn’t be stopped on the volleyball court, was a scoring machine in basketball, and a dominant pitcher and hitter on the softball diamond.

When she decided to attend Winona State University in Minnesota and attempt to play two sports – volleyball and softball – it was a daunting task. But if anyone was going to succeed, it would be Larsen.

Larsen has not only flourished in college, she’s become one of the best all-around Division II athletes in the country. Remarkably, she capped off her junior year by being named an All-American in both volleyball and softball.

“At first getting All-American for volleyball I was like, ‘Wow. I can’t believe it,’” Larsen said. “And then repeating it and doing it in softball is honestly a dream come true. A lot of athletes just wish to get all-conference or all-region, and my sister was an All-American, and I always wanted to follow in her footsteps. But never did I ever think that I would be a two-sport All-American. I guess that kind of sets the standard for my final year.”

Winona State softball coach Greg Jones is amazed his star pitcher and hitter can be such a well-rounded athlete.

“We joked at the beginning of her career. I guess I don’t know if it was joking or not, that she’s going to be great at both sports. But if she ever focused on just one, she’d be an All-American,” Jones said. “Well, apparently, that’s not necessarily true. She was able to play both sports and be an All-American in both of them. It’s really unheard of.”

Winona State volleyball coach Joe Getzin said: “I think it just speaks volumes of who she is, how hard she works, her focus on what she does. On top of it, she’s a stellar student as well.”

Most college athletes need to be able to focus on their sport’s offseason and work year-round from a development standpoint. Not Larsen. Once volleyball wraps up around the beginning of December, Larsen turns her attention to softball. When the softball season finishes around mid-May, she’s back into volleyball mode.

“I think it’s more of a mental break from each (sport),” Larsen said. “Obviously, if I could focus on one physically, then I’d probably be able to excel even more. But I definitely think that it gives me a mental break and I don’t get worn out in one, and I always look forward to the next season.”

Being busy in athletics and working non-stop is something Larsen has been accustomed to for a long time.

“I think growing up a multi-sport athlete, that’s just what she got used to doing,” Getzin said. “She’s just ultra-competitive. She’s not the cleanest setter or the most technical setter, but that doesn’t matter at the end of the day because she gets the job done.”

Larsen had a great junior campaign on the diamond. That happened in large part because she was back in a familiar position as the team’s ace pitcher.

As a freshman, Larsen played in left field and earned Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Freshman of the Year. The next season, she earned time in the circle, going 12-4 with a 1.86 ERA in 18 outings and was second-team all-conference. Larsen earned the No. 1 pitching status as a junior and rolled with it. She finished 26-5, winning 14 of her first 16 decisions, with a 1.15 ERA. She threw 24 complete games and 12 shutouts to earn Fastpitch News All-American Honorable Mention status.

“A couple things really made her great this year. Obviously, one was her stuff,” Jones said. “Her drop ball really became a big pitch for her – that added to her already strong repertoire. Stuff-wise, I think she took a jump. But I think the other part was just confidence and leadership, and who she became as a player really changed who she was able to be on the mound.

“But nothing really got to her, she had such a great demeanor and handled her business so well out there. She just did some things this year that you just don’t see. The volume of shutouts, her low ERA. Those types of things were just amazing.”

Larsen believes she pitched so well during the season because she’s grasped the mental side of the game. In the past, she used to get so hard on herself after a pitch wasn’t perfect. Larsen has grown a lot as a pitcher.

“I think not being so hard on myself and being positive knowing that I can do it really, really helped me,” Larsen said.

Larsen started all 65 of her team’s game this year. She appeared in 36 games in the circle, registering 30 starts. When she wasn’t pitching, Larsen was in left field.

For how well Larsen pitched, she had a frustrating season at the plate. After hitting .393 as a freshman and .301 her second year, she dipped down to .290 as a junior. At the midway point of the season, she was hitting .347 but hit a slump at the end of the year. Larsen still finished third on the team in hits with 60 and had 13 extra-base hits.

“I think it helped that I was pitching to keep my mind off of it because I know I would have been a little bit frustrated,” Larsen said.

Larsen opened 2016-17 with a great season on the volleyball court. The three-year starting setter tallied 1,239 assists (11.58 per set), which was 11th in the nation and second all-time in Winona State program history. She also racked up 147 kills and a .264 hitting percentage. Larsen earned American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American Honorable Mention.

“I think I improved a little bit in every aspect of the game – mechanics-wise and leadership role — because your setter is like your quarterback,” Larsen said.

Getzin loves the versatility of Larsen. She can do so much on the court.

“A left-hander is kind of unique in the sense that they don’t actually have to set the ball, they can attack the ball if she wants,” Getzin said. “She’s the best server on our team. When crunch time is on, she steps up her defensive game. She’s solid on the block, and she’s a really good setter.”

Larsen has some lofty goals when she enters her senior season in the fall.

“I want to win a national championship in both sports, which I think we can do,” said Larsen, who will earn a degree in movement science next spring and then attend graduate school to become a physical therapist. “Both of the national championship teams were from our conference, and we played right with them both seasons. I think it will be more big things to come.”

The Winona State volleyball team finished the season ranked No. 4 in the country, falling in the NCAA tournament to eventual championship Concordia-St. Paul. In softball, the Warriors advanced to the NCAA tournament and finished No. 20 in the nation. Minnesota State University-Mankato won the national title.

Larsen has one final shot to capture some hardware for her college.

“Go out with a bang, obviously have fun and hopefully bring home two trophies,” Larsen said. “Everything else other than that is a huge plus.”