Experience Has Golden Eagles Poised to Reach New Heights

The return of Holly Mertens provides a boost to Marquette's chances in 2012.

Aug. 21, 2012

2012 Information Guide/Record Book

MILWAUKEE - Fresh off the program's first appearance in the NCAA Championship, the Marquette University women's volleyball team opens what looks to be another successful season this weekend at the Al McGuire Center.

"Last year's success has given us a lot of confidence, but the team will continue to put in the necessary work this fall," fourth-year head coach Bond Shymansky said of the Golden Eagles chances in 2012. "I believe pushing until the end and just falling short at the BIG EAST Championship and in the second round of the NCAA tournament left a bittersweet taste in our mouth and makes us hunger for more."

The Golden Eagles have proven formidable in Shymansky's brief tenure with the squad and many outside the program have taken notice.

The head coaches in the BIG EAST Conference picked MU second in the league's preseason coaches' poll, while seniors Danielle Carlson and Holly Mertens earned mention in the All-BIG EAST Preseason Team, with Carlson being just one of four unanimous selections.

"Our upperclassmen in particular have been working hard this offseason and are trying to hold the high line of expectations and integrity for the rest of the group," Shymansky said. "We certainly don't want to get caught in thinking we are better than we are."

Carlson should once again be among the BIG EAST's leaders offensively, after pacing the conference in 2011 with a hitting percentage of .385. That mark ranked the Marshfield, Wis., native 17th in NCAA Division I and helped up her program-leading career standard to .338.

The 2011 AVCA Honorable Mention All-American will serve as team captain for a second-straight year and leads a formidable front line that includes fellow seniors in Mertens, Carol Henney and Kelsey Mattai.

Henney and Mattai will both see time at the second middle spot and each has spent time shoring up their respective weaknesses, Henney defensively and Mattai offensively.

"We are going to be really big at the net this season, stronger and tougher than we have ever been during my time here," Shymansky said. "I am really confident that the group of upperclassmen will be able to dominate the net both offensively and defensively."  

Mertens will begin the season as the starting right-side hitter and looks to build off a promising end to the 2011 season in which she was named to the conference's all-tournament team. The redshirt senior has fought through various injuries during her time in Milwaukee, and that resilience has been the key to her success.

"Holly is a tough, gritty competitor and has twice had to rehab a knee," Shymansky remarked. "She has a lightning quick arm, can be super terminal and get us points. As a fifth-year senior I don't expect that there will be a situation that really rattles her."

The Stanley, Wis., native will be backed up on the right side by Courtney Mrotek, who is in the process of rehabbing a knee injury herself, and freshman Meghan Niemann. Mrotek started 11 matches at the beginning of last season and was surprising many with her play before falling to injury.

"Mrotek is coming off a knee surgery and is currently rehabbing very well," Shymansky stated. "I think Niemann will surprise people in the long run and was a really underrated recruit for us. Anyone who knows our team knows that we prominently feature our right-side attack and we think it is a great group that a lot of teams would kill to have."

The key to this season though, may be the play of a group of inexperienced outside hitters looking to replace a pair of All-Americans in Ashley Beyer and Ciara Jones.

"The big `Kaboom' kills may not come to them as quickly as they did to Ciara and Ashley, but we have such a strong middle and right-side group that as long as we ball control we can be really effective offensively," Shymansky explained.

Freshman Erin Lehman joins sophomore Lindsey Gosh and junior Casey Read to combine for just 18 matches of collegiate experience.

"Outside hitters can sometimes be terminal for you or against you, so we are going to have to train them to keep errors minimized and hit with a higher efficiency. Like any young outside hitter group, they are going to have to learn when to hit hard and when to be smart and keep good ball control," Shymansky said.

Gosh provides the most intriguing look as a lefty, while Lehman, listed at 6-foot-1, is more of a blocking presence.

The role of setting up Marquette's hitters will fall on the shoulders of Kentucky-transfer Elizabeth Koberstein, who enters the program as its third starting setter in the last three seasons.

The last two, Nikki Klingsporn and Chelsea Heier, earned AVCA All-America honors.

"We transitioned and trained our new setter well last year and she was a true freshman," Shymansky said of the turnover in his offensive quarterback. "With a new junior transfer at setter, who has had collegiate experience and had a summer of training with her new teammates, I think her transition will be easier and in some ways faster. She is gifted and should be able to provide us with a lot running our offense."

Koberstein returns to her home state after two years of experience in the Southeastern Conference as part of a 2011 NCAA Sweet 16 squad. The Madison native set the SEC single-match record for assists with 70 against No. 23 Tulsa early last year.

The ever-improving back row will be anchored by libero and team captain Julie Jeziorowski and junior classmate Rachel Stier.

"Julie and Rachel have been working side-by-side since day one and we have always said that it was going to be pretty good to have a tandem like that for four years," Shymansky explained. "They are able to communicate extremely well and really understand what one another can do."

Stier and Jeziorowski, who set Marquette's single-season digs mark with 638 in 2011, will be joined by junior Catherine Mayer, sophomore Jalyn Smith and freshman Ellie Rauch.

"We have a lot of depth in the back row and with 15 subs this year it gives us flexibility to make sure that we are putting the best passers and defenders in the game. I expect us to be in system and very offensive this season as a result of that group of five in the back row," Shymansky said.

As the season gets underway, Shymansky will lean on a pair of captains in Carlson and Jeziorowski who bring a wealth of experience and intensity to the court.

"It is great when you have that competitive juice flowing from the top down," Shymansky stressed. "All captains talk about the struggle of being a strong leader, but also a good friend and teammate. I feel like those two have done a nice job of balancing those components. They are two players who play an extremely key role in our success and we are looking for their integrity and competitive character to take us forward this season."

The Golden Eagles begin the 2012 season on Friday, Aug. 24 against Bowling Green in the Marquette Challenge at the Al McGuire Center at 7 p.m.




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