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Volleyball ‘digging’ Houg’s calm on-court presence

Photo by Brian Georgeson

Photo by Brian Georgeson

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Few things seem to bother Lauren Houg.

She rolls up the sleeve of her sweatshirt to show floor burns she has acquired over the season. There are several scattered across her forearm and elbow. To most they would seem annoying.

“I get new jerseys every year because of the wear and tear to them gets pretty rough,” Houg said. “The worst I get is floor burns, nothing too crazy. No big bruises on my hips anymore. That would happen when I was younger because I would just fall and flop, but on defense you are supposed to play the ball first and then dive.”

It is that tranquil, laid-back approach to volleyball that has helped Houg, a senior, to become one of the best liberos in the BIG EAST and also pursue passions off the court.

Heading into her freshman season, Houg had completed an extremely successful high school career. She recorded 1,486 digs and led the state of Minnesota with an average of 7.7 digs per set her senior year. At Marquette, however, she played in only seven sets her freshman year.

“There are two ways you can look at situations like that. You can either blame it on outside factors, or you can look at what you can change about yourself,” Houg said. “It is definitely not easy to focus on just yourself and what you can do better, but definitely in the long run it pays off.”

“We thought that in spring of her freshman year she made huge strides and really absorbed some of the new techniques that we were using,” head coach Ryan Theis said. “Then going into the preseason, she had a great spring but she wasn’t necessarily going to be the libero. She just got better in those weeks and future weeks and won the job and hasn’t lost it since.”

There were low points, but Houg continued to work with her coaches and do something few people are good at — taking criticism. Now, she is second in the BIG EAST in total digs with 345, only three behind leader Tessa Fournier.

“I would say getting to this point in my career, (taking constructive criticism) has probably carried me pretty far, just being able to take that in a positive direction or just take it and let it soak in and understand it’s just for the betterment of the team,” Houg added.

Two things have separated Houg from the rest of the liberos. First, she is able to get not only digs, but quality digs.

“It takes a lot of constant feedback from coaches saying, ‘You know that is great you got it up, but that is not good enough,’ and just being able to take that criticism,” Houg said. “Being able to take that and know that it is a good thing to get a dig up, but you need the dig to be quality so that we can turn it into a kill. I feel like at this point in college it’s not just good enough to get it up, you need to get it up and put it in the best position you can.”

Secondly, Houg provides her team with a calm presence no matter what is going on the court in front of her.

“She is always a very calm, very even keeled person and I think sometimes we need that because Meghan (Niemann) gets very excited, she brings the fire,” middle hitter Jenna Rosenthal said. “Taylor (Louis) does too and when that is happening you are getting not quite jittery, but you’re starting to feel manic energy, but you can always look back at Lauren and she is just calm, ready.”

“She looks the same when we are up or down and I think that is a really important skill to have. She doesn’t take things personally, like off the court things. She is really very, very calm and I think that really helps our team.”

Those traits have translated off the court to two of Houg’s passions, teaching and volunteering.

Houg fell in love with Marquette on her first visit to campus.

“I saw myself coming to Marquette even if I didn’t play volleyball, which was really important to me,” she said.

Coming to Marquette gave Houg a great education program and a city that provided her with opportunity.

“I am very fortunate to be in the education program that I am in because for my Reading 3 class right now there (are) students that come in from different schools that we tutor in reading,” Houg said. “I have four second graders that come see me every Tuesday and Thursday (and) as part of my learning they get to learn how to read, too, so it kind of benefits both of us at the same time. … That that counts as a credit for me is crazy to me because it’s so much more than that. It is helping these students after school learn how to read.”

Houg has been able to make connections between the sports world and academics.

“It is just like coaching, honestly,” Houg added. “You are coaching these kids on the techniques just like you learn a technique in volleyball, you have to learn those reading techniques. I think it’s benefited me a lot to be coached and have feedback given to me. It is a lot different with young kids because you can’t give them criticism like you would be able to if (you were) a coach … It’s a lot different, but it is a lot similar in a lot of ways.”

In addition to student teaching, Houg is the Marquette volleyball NCAA student-athlete advisory committee representative. She coordinates various volunteering events for her and her teammates to participate in. Currently, Houg and several teammates regularly volunteer at Campus Kitchens, where they help prepare meals for those in need.

Houg is in the midst of her senior season, thus she has a list of the lasts. This past weekend was her last trip to New York and this Wednesday will be her last Wednesday match at home.

“Every single time you step on the court, it is like I am really taking it all in — really appreciative of the opportunity that I have to play for one more year because you never know what could happen,” she said. “You never know when your last game is going to be. I kind of know that this is my last season, but it still really hasn’t sunk in because I have been doing it for so long.”

It is a lot to take in as her team heads into the second half of a promising season, but few things seem to bother Lauren Houg.

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