Volleyball Aims for Third-Straight NCAA Appearance
Aug. 9, 2013
MILWAUKEE - Losing two All-Americans might not seem like the ideal recipe for an NCAA tournament berth the following season, but it has worked perfectly for the Marquette University women's volleyball program the last two campaigns.
It may seem like a daunting challenge to some, but head coach Bond Shymansky relishes the continued growth of his program as he enters his fifth season in Milwaukee.
"We have a good problem in that we keep having to replace All-Americans," Shymansky said. "Somehow we have found a way to build and develop new All-Americans to take their place. Losing some of our big front row people is going to have an impact on what we do, but it doesn't really change who we are as a competitive team. We will look for younger players to step up and returning players to take on a bigger role. One way or another we will figure it out and put out a team that will compete for a BIG EAST championship again and go further in the NCAA tournament than we ever have."
The return of team leaders in libero Julie Jeziorowski and setter Elizabeth Koberstein, herself an AVCA All-American in 2012, should aid in the transition process as the squad aims to maintain the high level of expectations to which it has become accustomed. The Golden Eagles set team records for victories (27) and BIG EAST Conference wins (13) in 2013 while making the program's second-straight NCAA Championship appearance.
Jeziorowski returns as Marquette's all-time leader in digs and her four years starting in the back row along with classmates Rachel Stier and Catherine Mayer will provide a base of strength in 2013. Stier is on pace to eclipse the 1,000-dig mark during her senior season, while Mayer has been a team leader, especially in the classroom, over the course of her career.
"I think that group of three seniors will do a great job of tutoring and just raising the bar for what it means to be a back row player at Marquette," Shymansky explained. "The volleyball IQ for that group of back row players has really grown a lot and Julie is a big part of that. She sets a great example both on and off the court and holds a high level of accountability for herself and her teammates every day. We need that type of leadership inside the team from both Julie and Bisky (Koberstein). They both provide something a little different, and it is a good balance."
Koberstein returns after a season in which she led the BIG EAST with 11.64 assists per set and ranked 10th in NCAA Division I. The Madison, Wis., native also helped the Golden Eagles to a league-leading hitting percentage of .277 and spent her summer as one of eight setters working with the U.S. Women's National Volleyball Senior A2 program. That experience should serve her well as Marquette attempts to work in hitters to replace Carlson, Mertens, Kelsey Mattai and Carol Henney.
Redshirt freshmen middles Meghan Niemann and Jackie Kocken received a tremendous amount of reps during the spring season and are set to compete for playing time with newcomers Rachel Vidourek and Teal Schnurr up front.
"Our middles will do well when our passing is good," Shymansky said of the challenge of replacing all that departed due to graduation. "I think Bisky has the capability of making our middles better if she can be consistent and aggressive with them and really create good opportunities for them to terminate."
Niemann was impressive during the spring season and her ability to hit off one foot may remind fans of Mertens, especially with the Jackson, Wis., native's build and switch to No. 7 for 2013.
"I was really pleased with the returners and the experience they got during the spring," Shymansky said. "I think Jackie came a long way and still has a ways to go, but she is learning and we see her improving. Meghan Niemann has taken on the role of being the hardest worker on the court and was just fantastic through the spring season. I think young is the right word for our group of middles, not necessarily inexperienced. With all the returning players around them it will allow them to learn and grow as we go along this season."
Along with the returning group in the back row, which includes the three seniors and sophomore Ellie Rauch, Lindsey Gosh is coming off an impressive season at outside hitter and is set to have a breakout campaign at her natural spot on the right side as a left-handed hitter.
"The game just comes to Lindsey naturally on the right side and it is what she grew up playing," Shymansky said. "We watched it in the spring and there are still some growing pains and some things that she needs to learn in our system, but it provides something totally different from what we have done before. Her jump serve, the passing, the defense, the back-row and front-row attack, all of it put together is exciting. I think she will be considered one of the best players in our conference this year."
Sophomore Erin Lehman returns at outside hitter and with Gosh's switch to the right side, an opening on the left side should lead to a great competition in fall camp. Along with senior Casey Read, a pair of incoming freshmen in German Nele Barber and Canadian Autumn Bailey, are expected to provide some fireworks during the preseason.
"I am really looking forward to what our incoming freshmen are going to provide in terms of that daily challenge and how our returners are going to respond. Both Casey and Erin have a distinct opportunity to play in that left-side role again and respond to the youthful challenge that they will get out of Nele and Autumn," Shymansky said.
Barber has competed internationally with the German national program since 2010 and spent the 2012-13 season playing for VCO Berlin in the Bundesliga Frauen. Her international experience should allow her to play on the right-side as a consummate six-rotation player.
"Nele has been tested in an international environment and she has played against some professional athletes so I think she will be pretty steady for us. She knows how to score and take care of the ball," Shymansky said.
Bailey will provide more of an explosive presence which will give teams an interesting look with potentially Bailey and Gosh hammering away on opposite sidelines.
"Autumn is super dynamic - she will break fingers and she will break floorboards," Shymansky said. "She will even break back boards at times as she hits balls all over the gym before she really learns how to keep control and terminate when it is there. I think both freshman outsides provide something different from each other and different from what we have. I am really looking forward to watching that group duke it out."
The Golden Eagles will have little time to work new players into the rotation once the season begins as six of their first eight matches are against NCAA tournament teams from 2012 and another regular season conference champion. Shymansky sees the schedule as a chance to prove that his program expects to compete nationally, especially with potential top-10 opponents in Penn State, USC, Florida and BYU.
"We want to continue to increase our program's profile and we want to keep climbing up the ranks. In order to do that you have got to play better and better teams and beat them. Last year I feel like we finally turned that corner of not just playing top 25 teams, but beating them. It is easy to zoom in on Penn State, USC, Florida and BYU but even in between that with teams like Bowling Green and TCU we feel like we have picked up a ton of great matches for our team outside of league play."
In addition to a rigorous non-conference schedule, Marquette will face each of the eight other teams in the new look BIG EAST both home and away with the top four teams making it to the conference tournament over Thanksgiving weekend.
"I want our group to earn tough wins and take our lumps where we need to take them to keep us focused on playing volleyball," Shymansky said. "We really want to be getting better throughout the course of the season so we can win the conference tournament and get into the NCAA tournament and go deeper than we have ever gone before."
With Shymansky at the helm and four returning starters, it would be wrong to count out the Golden Eagles.