Even though its postseason run didn’t quite get off the ground, Marquette volleyball still had the best season in program history.
The Golden Eagles went 27-7 and 15-3 against Big East foes. Both of those marks surpassed any previous Marquette volleyball team. The team scored defining wins over No. 23 Michigan and Notre Dame, whom the Golden Eagles defeated twice in 2012.
They also produced three AVCA all-region players in senior right side hitter Holly Mertens, senior middle hitter Dani Carlson and junior setter Elizabeth Koberstein. All three also made first team all-Big East.
“Twenty years from now, this may just turn into another year that we went to the NCAA tournament,” coach Bond Shymansky said. “But I feel that we have back-to-back years and we’ve built that foundation and I think that’s a really great legacy to leave.”
Shymansky felt that people who watched Marquette in 2012 will remember it for its consistency on the offensive side.
“This will be the year of the slide hitter,” Shymansky said. “Everyone will remember how dynamic we were with one-foot attacking.”
Unfortunately for the 2013 Golden Eagles, the three best slide hitters, Carlson, Mertens and senior middle hitter Kelsey Mattai will all graduate after this season. Marquette will be tasked with finding their replacements.
“Collectively, they had such a big impact for us,” Shymansky said. “I think about how much each one of them changed in terms of their ability. The things that we do in our program are very different. Early on, it was kind of a mind blow for them, but they started to turn that corner.”
Carlson, the senior captain who provided emotional leadership for the Golden Eagles on and off the court, finished her career as the 12th player in school history with more than 1,000 kills. She averaged just under three kills per set in 2012 and led the Big East with a .398 hitting percentage.
“Dani found a high level that she consistently competed at,” Shymansky said. “She didn’t come across as flashy to a lot of people, but she was incredibly steady. To be steady at a .400 hitting clip is really impressive.”
Mertens led the 2012 Golden Eagles with 419 kills and 3.35 kills per set. She had a kill in one of every three swings she took. She overcame injuries in her first four years at Marquette to put it all together for a stellar redshirt senior season.
“Holly’s legacy will be as a real bomb-dropper,” Shymansky said. “She could light up the ball and light up our team as a result.”
Mertens said that she wishes to be remembered as a model of perseverance in sports, as she never gave up because of her knee injuries.
“I want people to look back and see that I wasn’t a starter my whole career. I didn’t start a whole season until this year…even though it’s only one season, that one season made my whole career. That was enough for me as a college athlete.”
It took Mattai four years to truly get involved in the Marquette attack, but her senior season was well worth the wait. She posted 179 kills, good for 1.5 kills per set. She also served as a nice complement to fellow middle hitter Carlson because of her .342 hitting efficiency.
“Mattai spent three years as a journeyman, so to speak,” Shymansky said. “Finally this year as a senior, she let go of her frustration and delivered that into hard work and performance.”
Mattai says her career shows it’s never too late to make a difference.
“It’s never to late to contribute,” Mattai said. “You can always be working hard. It’s never too late to give something to your program. Just keep fighting.”
Middle hitter Carol Henney, Marquette’s fourth graduating senior, didn’t play much in 2012. However, Shymansky said the contributions Henney made early in her career helped the program for the long run.
“Carol worked her tail off to help establish our program with a winning culture,” Shymansky said. “She had that blue-collar Wisconsin work ethic.”
As far as 2013 is concerned, Shymansky will need to replace his graduating seniors’ play and leadership. He says that he’s faced similar challenges before and succeeded.
“Any program, you always have turnover,” Shymansky said. “Three years ago, they asked ‘What are you going to without Nicki (Klingsporn) and Becka (Gonyo), our senior setter and our senior middle, and we came up with an answer and it all worked out great. This last year, they asked, ‘What are you going to do without (Ciara) Jones and (Ashley) Beyer?’ the two senior outside hitters.
“We came up with an answer and it all worked out great. We have confidence in our returning players to fill those roles.”
When asked what he’ll remember about the 2012 season, Shymansky said that he’d remember the Michigan win and the feeling of elation from seeing Marquette’s name on the NCAA tournament bracket during the selection show. But he also said one memory sitting in his office will haunt him until next year.
“It might be the (Big East championship) runner-up trophy,” Shymansky said. “That thing’s going to sit in a precarious spot in my office because it’s not something I’m happy about. It needs to be a reminder or a daily calling card that we need to do it better.”
Shymansky says the team needs to continue to improve in 2013, and he can do a lot to make that happen.
“I know I want to get our team mentally tougher and hungrier about winning each point,” Shymansky said. “I don’t want us to get satisfied with being a good team. I think we are a good team, but I want to be a great team.”