NORMAL — Before analyzing how Mary Frahm feels about facing a challenge, let's go back in time, well before Heartland College hired her to launch a volleyball program in August.
"I have been involved in this game for as long as I can remember," the Naperville native begins. "For me, it's always been a passion sport.
"I was never the best player in any program that I was in. I kind of had to be a little gritty as a player to earn a spot. I had to find my voice and figure out how I was going to contribute to the programs I was in."
In short, Frahm is the kind of person who welcomes a challenge. She's getting her money's worth in trying to found a program during a pandemic.
"It's been a challenge to say the least, but I think in athletics, we teach a lot about adversity and learning how to handle that ... just kind of finding a way," Frahm said.
Frahm has made a productive start, constructing a 16-player roster and a 23-date schedule featuring six tournaments beginning with the 50-team McHenry Invitational Aug. 21-22 in Rockford.
"Recruiting has gone well," said Frahm, who has a fully funded cupboard of 14 scholarships at her disposal. "We're ready to go. We just need the green light."
When go time arrives, Frahm will aim high.
"I've got my eye set on the national tournament so I built a schedule that hopefully will reflect that," she said. "We want to play the best competition we can to prepare ourselves for what our goal is."
The roster includes five sophomores, 11 freshmen and seven Pantagraph-area natives. Frahm sought high-character players with athleticism from winning programs.
"For me, all of these girls fit into that mold," she said. "They won a lot in their high school experiences, both in volleyball and in other sports."
Among the sophomores is former Pantagraph All-Area first team pick Abi Fitzpatrick, a libero from Mount Pulaski who transferred from Division I Southern Illinois. Another sophomore transfer is former Normal West middle blocker Carley Baughman from Division II Millersville (Pa.).
"I think they are both not only going to provide some maturity, having a year of college volleyball under their belt, but also a different perspective," Frahm said. "They both were successful at the NCAA programs they were at."
Freshmen from Tri-Valley's 35-3 Sweet Sixteen team include libero Regan Danko and middle blocker Kendall Peck. Danko was a second-team All-Area pick while Peck earned honorable mention.
"Regan's a multi-sport athlete," Frahm said. "I'm really excited about the athleticism and speed that she possesses."
Other area players are freshmen hitters Aniya Monla of Normal West and Kelsey DeRoerck of Normal Community and sophomore hitter Abby Melvin of NCHS.
"I know we don't have to go very far to recruit top talent," said Frahm, who considers the Bloomington-based Illini Elite Volleyball Club a major asset. "For us, recruiting local talent is really important."
Rounding out the sophomores are St. Joseph-Ogden's Rylee Walsh and Woodstock North's Emily Eder, a transfer from Kishwaukee. Other freshmen are Pekin's Emma Clark and Logan Finneran, IVC's Bella Camp, St. Joseph-Ogden's Lacey Kaiser and Rylee Stahl, Mahomet-Seymour's Lauren Minick and Grant Park's Hadleigh Loitz.
The Hawks will play in a newly renovated gym featuring Taraflex, the same flooring used at the Olympics.
"I think the commitment from the college for that has been such a blessing," Frahm said.
A former Illinois Wesleyan assistant, Frahm said her coaching style includes things she learned from her coaches: Naperville Central's Brie Isaacson and Lewis University's Lorelee Smith as well as from IWU head coach Kim Nelson-Brown.
Naperville Central won Class 4A state titles in 2005 and 2007 during Frahm's prep career. She was a two-year captain at Lewis, which made four NCAA Division II Tournament appearances with her. In her five years at IWU, the Titans won 75.2% of their matches.
"All three of those women have taught me so much about cultivating a winning culture," Frahm said. "We don't really focus on winning when we're trying to win. We focus on all those small pieces that make up winning (like) character and work ethic and time management."
Frahm's staff includes former IWU assistant Hannah Deterding-Krueger and Olympia graduate Katie Bergeron. Deterding-Krueger helped Illinois Central College win a national title in 2009 before playing for the University of Illinois' 2011 national runners-up. Bergeron played beach volleyball at Florida Southern.
Frahm said her philosophy hinges upon competitiveness and integrity.
"Competitiveness in the sense that, obviously, we want to win, but we want to win on and off the court," she said. "We want to win in the classroom and the community as well. We want to be able to handle the adversity that we are inevitably going to face, that we're facing right now, with an attitude of 'we can get through it and we can still find a way to win.' "
Frahm, who is raising 2-year-old daughter Chloe with husband Matt, believes landing the job at Heartland has been a win-win situation for her.
"It allowed me to be a mom and be a coach," she said. "My family is very important to me. The opportunity to build a women's indoor program is pretty rare right now."
Frahm isn't put off by the fact powerful programs exist nearby at Parkland, ICC and Lincoln Land.
"The challenge sounded kind of fun," she said, "so I figured I would try."
Contact Randy Sharer at (309) 820-3405. Follow him on Twitter: @Pg_sharer
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