Their time is now

Photo courtesy of Marquette Images

A year ago, then-juniors Ciara Jones and Ashley Beyer and then-sophomore Dani Carlson stood in the shadows of All-American seniors and team captains Nikki Klingsporn and Rabbecka Gonyo, patiently waiting for their time in the Marquette volleyball spotlight.

It’s here.

As the Golden Eagles (2-2) begin their quest for a Big East Championship and subsequent NCAA Tournament berth, the attention has turned to a dominant frontline, consisting of outside hitters Beyer and Jones, and a force in the middle in Carlson.

The fiery and ultra-competitive Jones and the quieter, lead-by-example Carlson were named team captains at the beginning of the season, as voted on by the coaching staff. Head coach Bond Shymansky said both Jones and Carlson had what the staff was looking for in a team leader.

“Their competitive character, their classroom character, their social character,” Shymansky said. “We look for someone who can be competitive day in and day out and knows to inspire players around them to be their best.”

Carlson is making the most of her captainship, focusing on what she can do to improve others around her.

“A lot of times, players think about what they need to do,” Carlson said. “But now my focus is looking at what players are doing and what I need to do to get them out of their funk or capitalize on the things they’re doing well.”

For Jones, it’s about communicating between the coaching staff and the rest of the group.

“It’s a real privilege to be a captain for Bond (Shymansky), and for this it means we’re the middle man between the coaches and the team, making sure everyone stays together and the coaches know what’s going on.”

The two captains are working to overcome challenges of leading a group throughout an entire season and improving younger players, which Shymansky admitted takes time.

As inspiring and vocal as the two are, however, their play on the court speaks for itself.

Four games into the season, Carlson has led the team in points twice with Jones and Beyer each leading once. Moving inside to middle hitter, Carlson has an impressive .323 hit percentage and ranks second on the team with 43 kills, two less than Jones.

Not to be forgotten is Beyer, who a year ago led the Golden Eagles in kills, points and service aces. An ankle injury has slowed the outside hitter through the season’s first week, but she will play a major role in the Golden Eagles’ success.

In particular, Shymansky said Beyer’s tempo and Jones’ relentless power make for a lethal combination on the outside.

“When Beyer is passing, serving, hitting smart and owning the rhythm of the game, and Jones is burying the ball and owning the momentum of the game, they are really unstoppable as a pair,” Shymansky said.

Carlson added that when the front row is in control, they are “explosive.” Jones noted that any combination of the three set up difficult matchup problems for the opponent.

Shymansky believes his three attackers can earn All-Big East Conference honors in 2011, citing their on-court ability, passion and leadership that has culminated into a “now-or-never” mentality.

The time is now for Jones, Carlson and Beyer, and all signs point to the trio thriving in their roles, with all shadows now behind them as they take center stage for the Golden Eagles.