The Daily Wildcat recently spoke with junior middle blocker Merle Weidt via Zoom in an interview. Weidt wrapped up her first season with the Arizona volleyball team, finishing with a stat line of 83 kills, 151 attacks and a hitting percentage of .424.
Daily Wildcat: What was it like growing up in Freiburg, Germany?
Merle Weidt: “I liked growing up in Germany. One of the best memories of my childhood was my parents taking me to Italy for the first 10 years of my life. We would vacation at a campground once a year for two weeks. After I turned 10, my parents switched it up and we would either go to another location in Italy or go to France. Something I realized after I traveled to the United States when I was 18 was how unique it was to grow up in the European Union. We have borders, but we do not really. I live 20 minutes from France and growing up, if my family wanted French wine or cheese, we could go and get it. When I came to the United States, I realized that not everybody gets to cross a border and go into a different country.”
DW: What other European countries did you enjoy going to with your family?
MW: “My grandparents live in [Denmark] and are very close to the border [of Germany]. They have the same ability that my family has [with crossing the border]. Going to Denmark is very important to me because of the memories with my family. As a little kid we would always go to Denmark.”
DW: Do you recall what age it was when you took an interest in volleyball?
MW: “It started on one of my family vacations in Italy when I was about three or four years old. I have an older sister, [Sunje Weidt], who is seven years older than I am and we would always go to the beach and watch people play beach volleyball. I was too small at the time, but I remember grabbing a ball and playing at our trailer and hitting it to my sister over a bush. I really liked that, and it was just something that stuck in my mind. When I was in elementary school, I played soccer, tennis and badminton. When I went to high school, which is fifth grade for us, there was a volleyball team and I went. There was practice once a week … and I fell in love with the sport.”
DW: After high school, was volleyball something you planned on pursuing in college?
MW: “When I graduated from boarding school, I had two choices. I would go play pro in Germany, which would not allow me to study at the level I wanted to because playing pro takes a lot of time. The other option was study and quit volleyball. I did not like any of those options, because I wanted to keep playing and academics are important to me. I always wanted to go abroad, and the United States offered me both [volleyball and education], so I decided to go there.”
DW: Did any schools in the United States make offers for you to come to their school?
MW: “The first time I got in contact was a school was in 2015. My team [in Germany] was competing at the European Championship qualifier in Italy, and I was approached by Anna Khrystenko, who at the time was the assistant coach of Florida State. She saw me play and asked me if I wanted to come and play in the [United] States and … I told her no. Funny thing was when I started thinking about playing in the United States, I started talking to Rutgers University and she was there. She had switched from coaching at Florida State to Rutgers. I do not know why, but we ended up at the same school.”
DW: Were you prepared to leave Germany to come to Rutgers, especially since it is so far from home?
MW: “I was prepared to leave because at the time I had already lived at boarding school for four years. I was used to living away from my parents, buying my own groceries, cleaning my own room, and doing my own laundry. It was harder only being able to see my family twice a year, but it was something I adapted to because I was so excited to go live in a foreign country. Studying global studies makes me interested in studying other countries and languages.”
DW: Do you recall your first experience with the Rutgers volleyball team?
MW: “I remember getting picked up from the airport and walking around the campus with my coach. I committed without ever seeing the school. I had no time to look at schools because at the time I was taking my [high school final exams]. When I was walking around campus with my coach, he was telling me about the team and how it would all work. My mind was so full of information and it took me about a year to understand what the NCAA was and how the [American] college system works.”
DW: Do you have a favorite memory while you were on the Rutgers volleyball team?
MW: “I would say it was playing in Nebraska. It was crazy playing in a sold-out arena. It was one of the first times I would hear people sing the National Anthem. Everybody knows Nebraska volleyball is huge and everyone there loves volleyball but standing there and hearing everyone sing the National Anthem gave me goosebumps. That was my favorite memory from Rutgers.”
DW: Why did you transfer from Rutgers?
MW: “I started thinking about it after my freshman year because I was not satisfied with how the volleyball program was built or the culture of the team. I really liked the academics and had good friends that I did not want to leave, so I told myself I would give it another shot. During preseason I realized that it was not going to work, so I made the decision to finish the season, but I knew I was not going to stay at Rutgers any longer.”
DW: Do you recall who it was from Arizona that contacted you to recruit you?
MW: “Arizona was one of the schools that I emailed. They responded back and asked for a phone call and I was on the phone with the recruiter and Dave Rubio. [Rubio] said that they really liked me and asked me for my transcripts and I sent him the information. After that I was asked if I could come visit the campus … and I came to visit the campus the week after.”
DW: What did you find with the Arizona volleyball program that you did not find with Rutgers?
MW: “Something I was looking for and found was a high-level program with a great coaching staff and a team that is committed to what we are doing. When we are in the gym, everyone is working hard and there are no excuses.”
DW: What was it like having your first season with Arizona cancelled because of COVID-19?
MW: “It was hard because for the first three months I was at Arizona I had already made a lot of great memories. I got to know a lot of new friends, athletes and people. I was excited for all the memories to come, but then COVID-19 hit.”
DW: After the season was cancelled, what did you do during the pandemic?
MW: “I talked to my parents on the phone about staying in the United States and I told them I was going to buy a car. If I must stay here, I want to make the best out of the time that I had. I bought a car, went to the Home Depot and bought some wood and built a space for a bed in my car. I left Tucson and lived in my car for seven or eight weeks and traveled the west coast.”
DW: How would you sum up your first season here at Arizona?
MW: “I was disappointed that we did not make the tournament, but that did not overshadow anything for me because during the season we made a lot of big strides. We progressed after every match and learned something new. Our last game was when we swept Washington State, and I think that really showed the potential we have for next season.”
DW: Next year you will be a senior, so are you ready to be one of the leaders of the team?
MW: “I have always tried to be helpful and open with my teammates. I provide feedback and if they are open to it, I provide guidance. I hope that I will be able to do my best and help the incoming freshmen, especially the middle blockers.”
DW: After college, do you plan on trying out for the Olympics, or focusing on education?
MW: “I have not completely made up my mind yet. I am very focused on academics because I enjoy studying and learning. I am thinking about pursuing a graduate degree, hopefully in the United States. Depending on the situation of whether I get into grad school or not, I might play another year. Determining if I am going to continue to play volleyball is based on how next season goes.”
Follow Sean Fagan on Twitter