LOWELL | Carissa Thiel likes sharks.
It used to be dolphins that could claim Thiel's heart, but in the fifth grade, she had to write a paper about marine animals and someone had already picked dolphins.
There's something about the shark she likes, the way that it can't be contained and there's still more to learn about it.
On the volleyball court, Thiel is a shark: uncontainable, still learning.
The Lowell senior is the last in a line of three Thiels to work through the Red Devils program. Rachel Thiel helped her team to a regional final in 2005, in the same class with Liz Martin, the last Division I player to graduate from Lowell.
Finding a place that will take her talents and teach her to be a marine biologist so that she can study sharks is what Thiel hopes to find before she graduates. Already with interest from D-I teams, Thiel is looking for the right combination of volleyball plus education.
In the meantime, returning with her 377 kills, 95 solo blocks and 47 digs that made her an all-area player in 2009, she and the Red Devils have different goals this season.
Last season's second-place finish in the Northwest Crossroads Conference and five-game loss in the sectional to eventual champion Munster helped develop a taste for Lowell's return.
"It makes them all more hungry, it shows them again how close they were and what they could have," Lowell coach Kim Kilmer said. "Going through that and knowing what it was like to be that close, it will help us all in the long run."
For her part, Thiel said that she's become a better blocker, thanks to an offseason of reminding herself what she'd learned when she was an outside hitter.
Now that she is one of three senior captains on the team, Thiel said she's taking the opportunity to pass along the biggest lessons she's learned in her years on the court.
"In my beginning years, if I made a mistake I was more worried about what my other teammates would think," Thiel said. "You have to assert that if I make a mistake, it's OK, I have the next one. I've become more confident in that and that's helped my team become more confident in me."
Kilmer added: "The young Carissa Thiel would have become that head case and let her emotions take over all the time. It's rewarding to see she has come full circle and that she's trusting in herself and trusting in her teammates."