Richmond Hill’s Mackenzie Petermann knows all about spikes, both on and off the volleyball court.
The sophomore outside hitter, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 10, has not let it stop her from becoming one of the top players in the area and she has even received national recognition for her talent.
“When I was diagnosed, I had to change the way I do a lot of things, but I didn’t want it to stop me from the things I like to do,” Petermann said.
Her mom Kelly agrees.
“Mackenzie just loves the game,” she said. “She loves hitting the ball. She hasn’t let this slow her down one bit.”
Mackenzie said she enjoys a good kill on the court, especially to end a long rally, but blocking is her favorite part of the game.
“It’s a good feeling because the pressure is on you,” she said. “You’re eye to eye with the other team’s hitter and you can show them that you’re ready.”
Petermann was actually a basketball player when her diabetes was detected.
“She had lost 19 pounds and I knew something was wrong,” Kelly recalls. “At first I thought it was a thyroid issue because there is a history of that in our family. We went to the doctor and they diagnosed it. Their main message was to get on with everyday life, so she did.”
The Petermanns, in fact, left the hospital and went directly to a travel basketball tournament in Florida.
The six-footer eventually became interested in volleyball, in part because her older sister Kira — a 2016 Richmond Hill grad — played. She attended a volleyball camp at Armstrong State University and made the Richmond Hill Middle School team as a sixth grader.
Wildcats Coach Taisa Tremble, who coached Mackenzie in middle school and now in high school, calls Petermann “one of the most driven, passionate players I have ever coached.”
Petermann made the varsity team as a freshman and earned MVP honors.
“It was neat that she and Kira got to play together last year,” Kelly said. “The coach called it a ‘sister block’ when they would go up together to block a shot.”
Mackenzie also plays travel volleyball for Club Savannah, where this past season she was moved up to the U17 team as a 15-year-old. She spent the last two summers training with USA Volleyball, traveling to Colorado Springs in 2016 and New Orleans this past summer.
“I’ve learned a lot from those experiences,” she said. “Seeing what other players bring to the table and what I can do to get better.”
For any athlete who takes their sport seriously, conditioning and diet are important factors, but Mackenzie takes that to a whole new level due to her diabetes.
“It’s huge to have the support of my parents, my coaches and my teammates,” she said. “It pushes me to further my accomplishments on and off the court.”
Mackenzie wears an insulin pump and glucose monitor around the clock, even on the court, to make sure her blood sugar doesn’t spike one way or the other. Kelly and her husband, Todd, can keep an eye on Mackenzie’s numbers via their phones during games, and Tremble does the same at practice.
“We have a whole set of hand signals worked out that she can communicate with us in the stands,” Kelly said. “If she’s trending low, some pineapple juice or something like peanut butter that’s high in protein helps her get back on track.”
Tremble said Mackenzie “takes ownership” of her diabetes, and if it begins to affect her play, she is usually already taking steps to correct it before anyone has to say anything.
“She is the first athlete I’ve ever coached with diabetes, so I became best friends with the school nurse very quickly,” Tremble said. “But Mackenzie is very self-sufficient. Working with her parents, I know what to watch for and Mackenzie has done a great job educating the whole team about the situation.”
Kelly said the adjustments have been difficult at times, but they have not gotten in the way.
“I went to Colorado Springs with her because there are certain things you have to do with the insulin pump when you fly,” she said. “But she basically lives a normal life like any high school kid.”
Aside from her national team experience, Mackenzie has been hearing from college coaches since eighth grade.
“They can’t contact her directly because she’s only a sophomore, but they can talk to her coaches and invite her to camps,” Kelly said. “She has wanted to play in college since the first time she picked up a volleyball.”
Tremble doesn’t see any reason why that will not happen.
“She will stop at nothing,” she said. “She’ll slam into the bench or a wall chasing down a ball so that it won’t drop. She also takes her academics very seriously, so it’s really up to her what kind of college she wants to play at.”
Mackenzie currently leads the region with 92 kills and her hitting percentage is almost .400. In volleyball, that is calculated as kills minus errors divided by attempts. Anything over .300 is considered highly successful.
“She is constantly seeking feedback on what she can do to get better,” Tremble said. “She’s also a very good leader. She was elected as a co-captain despite just being a sophomore. “Her growth as a person, student and player has been exponential.”
Mackenzie said her continued success is a way to show others with diabetes that it does not have to hold you back.
“It just makes me push that much harder.”
She said she would like to study sports medicine in college or possibly endocrinology and eventually do diabetes research.