MAYER – High school athletes can spend their entire high school career chasing a state title. Mayer Lutheran High School volleyball player Olivia Tjernagel has two already, and she’s just a sophomore.
Tjernagel, a 6-foot middle hitter who helped lead the Crusaders to back-to-back Class A state volleyball titles, has not only seen recognition from around the area and state, but also from around the country, and for good reason.
With Tjernagel’s ability to dominate at the net as just a sophomore, college coaches around the state, and the country for that matter, are taking notice. While Tjernagel admits she’s been wanting this experience her entire life, she’s still surprised at how quick it all began.
“The whole experience of these colleges looking at me, taking their time on me, and having such a high interest in me, is such a humbling, yet amazing feeling,” Tjernagel said. “I had always dreamed of playing college volleyball my entire life, and I am excited to see where God will end up taking me on this amazing journey. I also never would have expected all of this to happen so soon and so fast. I started talking to a few coaches right after my freshman volleyball season, and it just took off from there. To start talking with a coach who I consider is one of the best of the best (Hugh McCutcheon, University of Minnesota) is completely humbling.”
Fresh off back-to-back state championships with Mayer Lutheran, Tjernagel has already visited seven different schools this year. She’s visited the University of Minnesota, North Dakota, Concordia St. Paul, Minnesota Duluth, Iowa State, Creighton, and Northern Iowa already. There’s also another handful of other schools that Tjernagel has interest in and would like to visit, as well. She already has four offers just as a sophomore, and continues to pursue the goal of playing college volleyball, while also finding the school that’s the right fit for her academically.
“So far, I have received four offers,” Tjernagel said. “Unfortunately, I recently had to turn down two of those amazing schools because they were just not the right fit for me, and didn’t give me what I wanted academically. Right now, my top schools are Creighton, University of Northern Iowa, Minnesota Duluth, and the University of Minnesota.”
Throughout the offseason, Tjernagel plays volleyball for a club team called High Voltage. High Voltage is a club volleyball team based around area athletes. Although it’s not one of the most well-known club teams, Tjernagel gets to play with familiar teammates, as well as get exposed to coaches across the country, which is something she’s taken full advantage of.
“Playing for High Voltage has helped me get exposed to quite a few schools at some of the big tournaments I have played in,” Tjernagel said. “It, for sure, is not one of the biggest, most known clubs, but that doesn’t matter. As long as you put your name out there, coaches will come find you if they like what they see in you on and off the court.”
While Tjernagel continues to play for High Voltage throughout the spring and summer, she’s also enjoying the ride that is college recruitment. While working on her game and getting exposed to college coaches, she’s not afraid to take a step back and enjoy it all.
“I am so humbled to be where I am at right now in the recruiting process,” Tjernagel said. “As I said before, it has always been a dream of mine to play college volleyball. As I take a step back and look, I never expected to be recruited at a Division 1 level. It is mind blowing to me. I am so very thankful and grateful for all the coaches who express such a high interest in me and take time out of their busy lives to watch me and get to know me better as an individual, and not just as a volleyball player. I also wouldn’t be where I am at now without the help of all my amazing coaches along the way, and all my teammates.”
With several schools showing great interest in Tjernagel and her upside as a player and person, she knows there will be a day she has to make a decision. With letters and camp invites rolling in on a daily basis, Tjernagel is looking to make a decision by the end of her junior season.
“I have discussed the decision of when I would like to decide on my college with my parents quite a lot,” Tjernagel said. “I came to the conclusion of wanting to make a decision anytime between now and the end of my junior high school volleyball season. That just gives a few more coaches that are talking with me a little more time to look at and evaluate me.”
What makes Tjernagel a unique talent is her ability to play multiple sports. While also playing basketball at the varsity level this season for Mayer Lutheran, Tjernagel continued to play volleyball on weekends, including some long trips. Despite a busy schedule, Tjernagel enjoys the opportunity to play multiple sports, and has been told by college coaches that’s something they look for.
“As of right now, I still would like to play basketball throughout my high school years, but also not knowing what I will be doing with club volleyball in the future, could possibly change that,” Tjernagel said. “I want to always try to work around the possibility of playing both basketball and club volleyball. Almost all the coaches I have talked to say they love multiple sport athletes, but ones that especially love volleyball the most. They also encourage to play multiple sports throughout high school.”
Although Tjernagel has the eye of multiple coaches across the county, she knows there are improvements to be made. She has many strengths including her vertical, but also knows she needs to get stronger in order to be prepared to compete at the college level right away.
“I would say the best part of my game is my jumping ability,” Tjernagel said. “I do have to give credit to my eight years of classical ballet and pointe I took to give me this ability. Also, I feel I am intelligent on the court, meaning knowing where to place the ball at the right times. But, there are lots of things I will have to keep working hard on and improving on to be ready for the college level in a few years. I will need to build lots of strength for sure. Most coaches tell me that when the incoming freshmen come in, in the spring to start training, the thing they lack the most is physical strength.”
While Tjernagel continues to grow on and off the court, there’s one thing that will never change. She simply loves the game, and having the ability to battle through with her teammates.
“I have always loved volleyball, and always will,” Tjernagel said. “My high school coach, especially, put a little fire under me. She coached me when I was 12 and 13 years old, and now she coaches me in high school. She pushes me to my max, and I love that. I love being out on the court where this is a team game and not just a one-person game. Everyone contributes.”