FARGO - Making the leap from North Dakota Class B volleyball in Wyndmere, N.D., to the Division I level at North Dakota State wasn't supposed to be easy for Allie Mauch. And it wasn't.
On the flipside, not much was going to hold her back, either. As an eighth-grader, students were asked to write their goal for college and where they wanted to go. Mauch kept it simple.
"Anywhere D-I," she said.
Now a sophomore at Division I NDSU, she leads the team in kills in the early going with 50 in six matches. At this rate, she'll have a lot to talk about at those Mauch family reunions, which are not your normal family get-togethers.
She has so many cousins in athletics that it's hard to count them all. Mikayla Reinke from Kindred, N.D., plays basketball at the University of North Dakota. Molly Grumbo from La Palma, Calif., plays softball for Loyola Marymount (Calif.). Closer to home, Amber Lingen from Wahpeton plays basketball for Concordia and Cody Mauch from Hankinson plays football for NDSU.
Brandon Lingen from Wayzata, Minn., finished his football career at the University of Minnesota last year. And then there's "The All-American American." That would be cousin Jake Hager, who's better known in the WWE professional wrestling circles as Jack Swagger.
He was a wrestler and football player at the University of Oklahoma, eventually discarding football. He set an Oklahoma wrestling record for most pins in a season with 30 in 2006, where he indeed ended up as an All-American in the Division I Wrestling Championships.
"He was telling me at a family reunion a couple of years ago that when he was deciding what to do with his life, he had to choose between the NFL or wrestling and he's like I don't want to get hurt so he said I'm going to WWE," Mauch said. "He loved it."
About those family reunions: It's hard to imagine a family having more high-caliber athletes than Mauch's family. The last reunion was two years ago on Otter Tail Lake in Minnesota. The numbers come from Allie's father side of the family-Craig Mauch is from a family of 12 kids.
"And we're all competitive too," Allie said. "It must be a German thing."
The Christmas gatherings have gotten so large that the family rents out a facility in Wahpeton. Nobody has a house big enough to hold everybody.
As for the Bison volleyball house, the 6-foot-1 Mauch played in all 28 matches last season and finished fifth in the Summit League with 17 solo blocks.
"It's been a learning process for her and she's had to learn a lot about herself through that," said NDSU head coach Jennifer Lopez. "She had to not let some small-town stereotype stand in her way. Overall she's handled it really well and I'm excited about her progress."
The Bison are 2-5, but are in the midst of a long streak of matches on the road. They beat Western Carolina last Sunday in the only home nonconference action at Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse.
This weekend they travel to Muncie, Ind., for the Ball State Active Ankle Challenge to face Indiana, Ball State and Northern Iowa. The following week is a road trip to North Carolina and Duke.
Of the six starters, only senior McKenzie Burke is not a freshman or sophomore. It's a different game at the college level for younger players. Mauch's home address is actually Barney, N.D.
"It's a lot of determination in proving some people wrong that kids from small towns can make it," Lopez said. "It's a mindset and some kids have it and some kids don't."