Saturday, July 16, 2016

World Cup 2016: Spotlight on Team USA Assistant Coach Mollie Lensing

By Danielle Lehmann

Mollie Lensing has a long list of exceptional quidditch experiences, but none more impactful than the moment she tore her ACL almost a year ago. This doesn’t sound like a type of achievement; tearing your ACL is a traumatic accident for any dedicated athlete, but her triumph over it was the way in which she turned the injury into a positive force for her own goals and the goals of her team, Lone Star Quidditch Club. Through her relentless determination, Lensing not only returned back to the pitch for this Major League Quidditch (MLQ) season, but she used her time off-pitch as non-playing coach of Lone Star Quidditch Club to gain the experience she needed to capture the position of assistant coach for this year’s 2016 Team USA.

Lensing began playing quidditch at Texas A&M in the fall of 2009 with a fervor that she carries on pitch to this day. She was a sophomore at the time and thought about going back to soccer, a sport she played competitively in the past, but Lensing wasn’t about to settle for something in her comfort zone. During that first practice she didn’t just decide to join the team, she signed up for World Cup III

It was challenging and I was so intrigued by the coed nature of the sport, especially when it was full contact,” said Lensing. “I stepped on the field for the first time and was totally lost but I loved it. The people were so welcoming and I needed that. I was a very risk-averse individual prior to quidditch and relished in living within my own bubble of what I knew and was comfortable with. That first practice was the start of me changing all that and I knew it was significant so signing up for World Cup was the first step.”

Many know Lensing as one of the best beaters in the United States, but she didn’t start out with a black headband. It wasn’t until spring 2011, at the first Southwest Regional Championship, that she changed to beater, but it wasn’t even a result of personal reasons. Lensing always has her team in mind, so when Texas A&M realized it was missing many of its female beaters, Lensing stepped up for her team and never switched back. 

“I never anticipated it would stick because I felt like my background in soccer matched better with chaser, but I was definitely wrong,” said Lensing. “I loved the mental challenge of beating and trying to incorporate beaters into a fluid dynamic with the strategies of chasing, so I kept playing even after that tournament.”

This unexpected change gave Lensing her next memorable quidditch experience: she was selected for the Team USA 2012 roster and was elected co-captain of the team. 

“I don’t know if I have the appropriate words to truly express how I felt right when I was selected,” said Lensing. “It was honestly like a dream come true and was very overwhelming. I never thought I would be on a team considered to be the best in an entire sport, let alone that sport be quidditch. It was such an amazing experience to be a part of the first Team USA and see firsthand the insane growth it had experienced in such a short time and the amount of people the sport had drawn together. I also felt such an obligation after that experience to continue and help the sport grow in whatever ways I could. The sport has helped me grow so much as a person, and I want others to have those amazing experiences and be a part of such a great community.” 

Lensing is constantly looking out for the quidditch community. Whether it’s through her work as MLQ gameplay director for its inaugural season in 2015 or her dedication as a pro ambassador at Athlete Ally, Lensing is driven to help make the quidditch community open and accepting of everyone and help quidditch take its next steps toward professionalism and athleticism. While looking into the future of quidditch in the United States, she also looks to other international teams. Frankfurt will give her a great opportunity to see them in action. 

“I'm most looking forward to seeing all the new national teams compete, such as Brazil and Uganda,” said Lensing. “It is so exciting to see the sport spread and grow across multiple continents and I’m interested to see how they have developed and play the game.”

Editor’s note: the interview was conducted before the Uganda team dropped from World Cup.

Graduation often stops many people from playing quidditch, but when Lensing graduated from Texas A&M in 2012, she teamed up with  University of Texas’ Kody Marshall – captain and player for Team USA in 2014 to create Lone Star Quidditch Club, a community team that pulls from both Texas A&M and University of Texas graduates. In the past these two university teams had been fierce rivals, but the community team brought them together. As a testament to her skill and leadership, some of Lone Star’s accomplishments include an Elite Eight run at World Cup VII (2014), the runners up at USQ World Cup 8 (2015), and the semifinalists in US Quidditch Cup 9 (2016).

Lensing surrounded by teammates at USQ World Cup 8. | Photo Credit: Nikki Smith Photography
Lone Star Quidditch Club’s 2015-16 season, however, did not see Lensing on the playing roster. In August, just before the season was about the start, Lensing tore her ACL and meniscus at tryouts during a non-contact drill. This wasn’t her first injury, however, and it certainly wasn’t going to keep her from quidditch. 

“It occurred right as the season was beginning; a time of excitement and anticipation for what is to come,” said Lone Star keeper Stephen Bell. “Many would take something like that and become greatly discouraged. However, what sets Mollie apart from most is how she reacted. Before the day’s end, Mollie was already posting motivational messages into our team page, planning her recovery, and focusing on whatever she could do to keep helping the team to be successful. While I think most people would begin to focus on themselves, Mollie continued to possess a team first approach, despite the traumatic event that had just unfolded. Through the rehabilitation process, she has led by example, working hard to stay in shape and actually becoming stronger throughout the rest of her body while her knee mends itself. I think that her perseverance and professionalism are qualities that are difficult to overstate.”

In hindsight, the accident gave Lensing a unique opportunity to apply for a Team USA management position. 

“I think my tenure as a non-playing coach this season for Lone Star has been the most valuable by far,” said Lensing. “I’ve learned so much and had the opportunity to develop a lot of coaching skills from being focused solely on building up all the players around me and not myself since recovering from my ACL tear. As everyone knows, Lone Star has a lot of high-profile players, many of whom have played for Team USA before and have a ton of experience. These types of players require completely different coaching expectations and strategies than a university team does simply because they are at such an advanced level with their skill sets and mentality. I enjoy the challenge, though, because it forces me to be innovative almost every day and it’s greatly prepared me for the role ahead of me.”

Traveling to Germany for this World Cup, Team USA comes into the tournament with high expectations. Lensing understands those expectations and expects to meet them, but she uses them as challenges and goals instead of an excuse to not train and prepare. 

“I want confidence, not arrogance,” said Lensing. “Every day I want them to wake up and BE winners. That doesn’t mean they simply talk about how they will win or sit back and listen to all the news sources tell them they will win it means they will actively do and think things everyday that will contribute toward dominating in Germany. I want them to step on that field and know they are the best, not because someone told them, but because they feel it in their entire being through all the hard work they put into getting there.”

Lensing knows from her own experience that hard work and dedication pay off. After almost a full year of recovery, Lensing is back on the pitch as a beater for the Austin Outlaws in Major League Quidditch this 2016 season. Some may see Lensing’s position as non-playing coach for Team USA as a step back from the progress she’s made to get a bludger back in her hands, but she certainly doesn’t see it that way. 

“I will absolutely miss being on the field, but at the same time I’m excited to help the team from the role of a coach,” said Lensing. “Coaching is a fun challenge in its own right so I’m excited to work with this year’s USA National Team and leverage everyone’s strengths on field to bring home the gold again.”

An inspirational leader for Team USA, Lensing brings confidence to the team to keep personal and team goals high and the passion to fuel the team toward and past those goals. With Lensing and Head Coach James Hicks back on the pitch coaching Team USA, they will certainly help the National Team reach the gold, but if there are bumps and challenges along the way, Lensing will surely know how to overcome them.

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