In 2011, the Marquette women’s volleyball team shocked Western Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA tournament, recording its first tourney win in program history. But even after its best season, the team still wants to step forward in 2012.
“The win at the NCAA tournament really lit a fire under our butts,” said senior middle hitter Dani Carlson. “We remember that, and we know we can do more. We see all of our teammates in the gym doing things that they didn’t do last year, and that just makes us more excited and brings more momentum to every game.”
One of the trickiest tasks in 2012 for the Golden Eagles, picked second in the Big East preseason, will be replacing the powerful combination of outside hitters Ashley Beyer and Ciara Jones. But Carlson says that the team can overcome those tough losses with a new style.
“We’re a different team this year in that we can grind out points,“ she said. “Last year it was really flashy, and that was awesome. Ciara and Beyer really took care of it and we could lean on them, but there are players stepping up.”
Those players include freshman outside hitter Erin Lehman and junior setter Elizabeth Koberstein, who transferred from Kentucky to replace 2011 Big East setter of the year Chelsea Heier. So far in 2012, Lehman leads the team in kills, while Koberstein has relished in setting her up.
“[Having Erin] is amazing, said junior libero Julie Jeziorowski. “I already feel like I can rely on her and it’s game one. She’s not a flashy player, but she’s not afraid. She’s very stable, and it’s important to be stable as an outside (hitter).”
Coach Bond Shymansky compared Koberstein to Brett Favre because of how she “threads the needle” with her sets and makes plays nobody else would think to make.
However, the key for the Golden Eagles in 2012 will be consistency across the backline. Jeziorowski and fellow junior defensive specialist Rachel Stier will need to play solidly and help bring along the younger players joining them in the back this year, like jack-of-all-trades player Lindsey Gosh (a sophomore) and freshman defensive specialist Ellie Rauch.
“Rachel and I have been back there for so long,” Jeziorowski said, “that when we make a mistake or when someone gets an ace, we’re not going to let that bring us down … the next play we’re going to make them pay for it.”
Shymansky agreed that his leaders in the back will be especially important, since his coaching staff implemented some new tactics for this season.
“Our new defensive system puts a lot of balls back up and creates a lot of scramble plays,” Shymansky said. “You have to learn to communicate through that and move on.”
Across the frontline, the Golden Eagles have two solid veterans in Carlson and fifth-year senior right side hitter Holly Mertens. Those two are joined by Lehman, senior middle hitter Kelsey Mattai, and occasionally Gosh stepping up from the back. So far, Lehman has been the star, but she can thank her teammates for that.
“Having them in the front row with me,” Lehman said, “they take a lot of the focus off of me so it makes it way easier for me to get those kills … they’re just as big a part of my success as I am right now.”
Marquette started well, sweeping Bowling Green on Friday before dropping a Sunday afternoon match to Northwestern. Shymansky isn’t worried though, saying games like Sundays are just part of the maturation process.
“It just didn’t click right today,” Shymansky said. “Those tight two point games can expose some of your youth, and at times it can expose that this is where you’re at the beginning of the season.”
However, Shymansky loves that he has young players stepping up around his veteran core.
“That’s the good news,” Shymansky said. “We have new players in the lineup who are asserting themselves and are performing really well … as we keep going further in the season, they’re going to get more experienced and more comfortable.”