Marquette Wire

Speckman’s personality, passing are catalysts for MUVB

Setter Lauren Speckman had 27 assists, but it wasn't enough as Wisconsin defeated Marquette in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday night.

Setter Lauren Speckman had 27 assists, but it wasn't enough as Wisconsin defeated Marquette in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday night.

Photo by Helen Dudley

Photo by Helen Dudley

Setter Lauren Speckman had 27 assists, but it wasn't enough as Wisconsin defeated Marquette in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday night.

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In her two seasons at Marquette, setter Sara Blaiser collected 2,413 assists, which puts her sixth all-time in Marquette history. The Golden Eagles could count on Blaiser to consistently put the ball in the exact spot outside hitters wanted it.

Fast forward to 2017, and Blaiser is gone. Instead, sophomore Lauren Speckman stands at the center of the net, ready to take Blaiser’s place.

Last season Speckman did not play, and the year off has benefited her and the rest of the team. “I think that was beneficial in the long run,” Speckman said.

“Coming in, there was a chance I could play and there was a chance that I couldn’t, and I was going to work my hardest (and) do what I could.”

The first thing one notices about Speckman is her confidence. Any hints of shyness or apprehension are either nonexistent or buried beneath a persistent smile. That confidence and assertiveness have allowed Speckman to seamlessly transition into the setter position.

“Her dynamic personality and ability to play high-energy to just play for really long periods of time is pretty important to that position,” head coach Ryan Theis said.

Theis first noticed Speckman’s demeanor when he was at the University of Ohio (prior to taking over Marquette’s head coaching job.) Speckman was already an accomplished setter at Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, California. By that point, she’d served as the setter on the 2014 USA Junior National Team. While Speckman’s athleticism was obvious to Theis, her effect on teammates was even more apparent.

“If you have teammates who are lethargic or don’t bring that level of energy or communication she can help bridge all of those gaps,” Theis said. “That is pretty important with this group and that position and she does a really good job with it.”

Speckman felt an immediate connection with Theis, but she was also being recruited by Bond Shymansky, Marquette’s head coach at the time. When Shymansky left at the end of the 2014 season and Theis took over, Speckman found her perfect fit.

“Everyone in Wisconsin was extremely friendly,” Speckman said at the time of her recruitment, “It was a different environment and that’s what I was looking for.”

Coming into last season, Speckman wanted to have a bigger role on the team, but Blaiser was the senior stalwart and also had familiarity with the returning outside hitters. To make matters worse, Speckman injured her back early in the season. Those two factors led to Speckman watching almost 75 percent of Marquette’s sets from the bench.

Instead of being regretful about the lack of playing time, Speckman viewed it as a chance to get acclimated to college without “being terrified.”

“Last year, not playing, my body had a little time to adjust,” Speckman said. “It was definitely beneficial that I could come in learn, adapt and know my place at the school.”

The spring exhibition season arrived, Speckman’s back healed and she had the comfort of knowing her opportunity to start had arrived. She worked with assistant coach Meghan Keck to tweak her technique and develop on-court chemistry with the three returning hitters: middle blocker Jenna Rosenthal and outside hitters Allie Barber and Madeline Mosher. Having to only adapt to three players for a few months made Speckman’s job easier, and she quickly became a more effective player, not to mention communicator.

“Madeline and Allie are on the quiet side, so the fact that Lauren can dictate most of that communication is very helpful,” Theis said. “Her and Jenna have good open dialogue,” Theis said.

That personality has been needed in this up-and-down season. There have been high points, like a 50-assist match – the first of Speckman’s career – in a win over then-No. 20 ranked Hawai’i. The lower points have also been plentiful; a painful five-set loss at Wichita State and a close home loss last weekend against Kentucky have tested Marquette’s resolve. During those times, it’s always helpful to have someone who’s willing to speak up.

“I think she is willing to handle the tough questions, she is willing to walk into your office and go ‘Ryan, as a team we are struggling as a team when you say this or we are struggling with this particular thing.’ I think she is a bit of a spokesperson … and comfortable doing that,” Theis said.

The season is still young, but Speckman seems to have found her niche with Marquette volleyball.

“I think everyone plays different leadership roles … Being vocal is what mine is about,” Speckman said. “It is difficult for me to lead by example when everyone does different things, so I try and work my hardest.”

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