In the midst of an emotional revenge match with Western Michigan on Oct. 9, senior middle hitter Dani Carlson lost a “joust” with the Broncos setter as their hands collided for a block at the net.
Furious, Carlson returned to the huddle demanding the ball. On the next play, she took a set from junior setter Elizabeth Koberstein and smashed it straight down for the kill.
“Dani leads a lot by example, so she can back up what she’s saying with her actions,” said senior middle hitter Kelsey Mattai, one of Carlson’s best friends. “A lot of times she’s bringing us together and getting us back on track and saying, ‘OK, this is what we’re going to do.’”
Marquette has risen to new heights as a volleyball program in 2012 with an 18-4 record and an 8-1 start to Big East play. Carlson has been at the center of that success, motivating the team to keep fighting no matter how tough the situation gets.
“We talk about being a champion in all that we do,” Carlson said. “It’s doing everything that we know we’re supposed to do perfectly. I realize that I’m the one who has to hold the girls accountable.”
With that championship mentality comes a lot of expectations, especially for the senior captain. Carlson said she prefers not to think about them in order to focus on the task at hand.
“I know that there’s pressure, but I don’t think about it,” Carlson said. “It’s about doing what’s expected of me that day and going day by and doing it the best I can.”
Carlson draws inspiration in her role as captain and leader from former Green Bay hitter Janelle Tomlinson. Tomlinson, the Phoenix’s all-time leader in kills by more than 500, worked camps that Carlson attended in high school.
“I don’t tend to be the outspoken leader; I tend to lead by example,” Carlson said. “That’s a role I’ve embraced. I think I learned that from her (Tomlinson). It’s very much (about) having the players you’re playing with know what you expect of them.”
Carlson’s coach, Bond Shymansky, said she is the ideal player to lead Marquette in this important season.
“Dani has unbelievable character,” Shymansky said. “Her leadership on the court is pretty obvious, and her competitive desire is pretty obvious when you watch her play. Knowing what she’s about as a person, she’s a great representative of everything that Marquette would expect a student to be, not just an athlete.”
With that competitive desire comes the fiery emotion with which Carlson plays on a regular basis, especially in matches with what Shymansky calls “revenge factor.” Carlson said her coach has helped her channel that emotion into a positive for herself and her teammates who look to her for inspiration.
“It’s a tough balance, and Bond has helped me with that a lot,” Carlson said. “If you’re investing a lot of passion, it comes off very positive or very negative. It’s really the consistent emotion that needs to be shown when we’re doing something well, but also that same fire to get your teammates to do what’s expected of them.”
Carlson isn’t the only player on whom Marquette relies for leadership. Her co-captain, junior libero Julie Jeziorowski, shares that responsibility with Carlson well as more of a vocal leader. In a pre-season survey, Carlson chose Jeziorowski as the teammate she would want to lead the team into battle.
In her fourth season at Marquette, Carlson has learned countless lessons from Shymansky. Perhaps the one that has helped her the most as a captain is the importance of selflessness.
“Bond has challenged me to be the best player I can be and showed me how to challenge others to be the best players that they can be,” Carlson said. “Without Bond’s influence, I would have just focused on how I can be the best and not focused on those around me. I don’t think I could have developed that on my own.”
Going forward, Carlson will need to continue her good work as captain if the team will achieve the lofty goals it sets for itself.
“I need to keep the team unified and keep the team enthusiastic about what we are going to do,” Carlson said. “I need to help the team recognize our capabilities and our strengths that we have, so we can start stomping on people.”