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UND's Finnish setter settling in for Fighting Hawks

UND setter Roosa Rautio (#9) celebrates after scoring a point over Eastern Washington with teammates (from left) Lydia Rutten, Ashley Brueggeman, Brynn Nieukirk, Alivia Fraase and Kayla Williams early Thursday afternoon at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

UND volleyball setter Roosa Rautio arrived in Grand Forks on a Sunday this spring.

It was the first time that she had ever stepped foot in the United States.

Coach Mark Pryor picked her up at the airport and she had one request.

“She asked if she could go look at the gym,” Pryor said. “I was like, ‘You’ve been on a flight for 17 hours. Don’t you want to go rest?’ She was like, ‘No, I just want to see the gym.’”

When she walked into the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, the Rovaniemi, Finland, native told Pryor, “This makes me so happy.”

Rautio, who came from Rovaniemi, Finland, got to play her first game in The Betty on Thursday afternoon. She tallied 32 assists in a 25-10, 25-20, 25-12 rout of Eastern Washington in the UND Classic.

Rautio has 173 assists in give games for the Fighting Hawks, who take on Western Carolina at 11:30 a.m. and Louisiana Tech at 7 p.m. today.

Pryor said it has been a good start for Rautio, who is still transitioning to life in America while trying to replace UND’s first Division I All-American and former Big Sky Conference Most Valuable Player Sydney Griffin.

“I definitely wanted to play right away,” Rautio said. “It is a big role. After Sydney left -- she was a really good setter -- there’s some pressure on me. I feel like I put a lot of pressure on myself, but I enjoy it. I like the challenge. I love working with Mia (Tabberson, assistant coach). I feel like I’m improving already. It is a little scary, but I’m handling it.”

Rautio said she contacted American schools hoping to find a place to get a degree while playing a high level of volleyball.

Pryor emailed her back, scouted online video and had a few Skype calls with Rautio. She committed, then quickly moved overseas to Grand Forks.

“I didn’t really have time to think about it,” Rautio said. “It didn’t really hit me until a few weeks ago that I’m here now, living here and studying here.

“The style of play is a little bit different, so that’s been an adjustment. Studying in a different language is hard. Back home, I only needed English for English class. Here, everything needs to be in English. My first class here was Geology and I was lost because I didn’t know half the words. I feel like that was the hardest thing for me personally.”

Rautio said her parents have never been to America, either, but are planning to come in about a month. They’ll be in Grand Forks when UND hosts rival North Dakota State.

Pryor said he knew there was going to be a transition at setter this season and hopes that Rautio can average somewhere around 10 or 11 assists per set.

He’s also confident she’ll handle all aspects of living in Grand Forks and America just fine.

Rautio spent the Fourth of July on a lake with friends and has no qualms about the upcoming winter. During the recruiting process, he asked her if she thinks she can handle the cold.

“She told me, ‘Coach, my hometown is like 30 kilometers from the Arctic Circle,’” Pryor said. “So she’ll be fine.”

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 14th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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