LOCICERO: Shymansky has proven me wrong

When Bond Shymansky was hired by Marquette on Dec. 15, 2008, to lead a program Patti Rolf left in shambles, I was skeptical.

“We are going to build a volleyball powerhouse in the Big East, and it’s going to start with the local volleyball community of Milwaukee,” Shymansky said at the time.

I have to admit I laughed a little. I was a freshman then, and the girl I was dating was a volleyball player who went to a local high school.

I had seen the talent in the Milwaukee area and across the state, and there was no way Marquette was going to compete with perennial powerhouses like Penn State, Stanford, USC, etc. on the national stage.

Well, it’s four years later and I couldn’t be more wrong.

After leading Georgia Tech for seven seasons, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2003, Shymansky’s squad become a top team in the Big East and on the national scene.

Despite dropping a tough five-set match to No. 25 Northern Iowa on Sunday, the Golden Eagles knocked off No. 23 Michigan, a previously undefeated team, on Friday night.

Michigan was the highest-ranked opponent Marquette has beaten in program history, topping its win over then-No. 24 Western Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year.

That Marquette team lost its next match to Illinois on the Fighting Illini’s home court. Illinois went to the national championship game before falling to UCLA.

Shymansky has built this program from the ground up. It has gone through three setters, the heart and soul of its offense, in as many years.

Nikki Klingsporn, who was Marquette’s setter in 2009 and 2010 after transferring from Wisconsin-Madison, recorded 2,626 career assists in just two years at Marquette, good for the No. 4 mark in program history.

Klingsporn averaged 12.1 assists per set in 2010 and helped the team rank No. 11 nationally in hitting percentage (.288).

Shymansky replaced her with freshman Chelsea Heier and all she did was rank No. 2 in program history for a single season with 1,498 assists in 2011, while also being named a 2011 AVCA Honorable Mention All-American and the Big East Freshman of the Year.

Heier transferred to Santa Clara, closer to her hometown, San Clemente, Calif., but Shymansky didn’t let that bring the team down.

Junior Elizabeth Koberstein, a Madison, Wis., native, transferred from Kentucky and is averaging 11.58 assists per set through nine games. She already has 359 assists. If she keeps up that pace, she’ll eclipse 1,000 assists before the regular season ends.

Shymansky lost Ashley Beyer, an All-American in 2010, and the hard-hitting Ciara Jones from last year, but hasn’t missed a beat.

Sophomore right side Lindsey Gosh, a local product from Oconomowoc, Wis., leads the 7-2 Golden Eagles with 99 kills, with returning All-American Dani Carlson right on her heels with 91.

The program already has six All-Americans in three years under Shymansky’s tutelage. It had a whopping two selections in 34 years before his arrival.

Marquette was predicted to finish second in the Big East, behind Louisville. With the Big East Tournament returning to Milwaukee, the Golden Eagles have a chance to win their first Big East Championship in history and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

And with 10 of 17 players on its roster from Wisconsin, Shymansky has made Marquette a staple at the top of the Big East with local talent.

It hurts to admit you’re wrong, but in this case, I couldn’t be happier.

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