Defensive specialist falls back on faith to overcome early obstacles

After+just+seeing+action+in+23+sets+last+season%2C+Samantha+Naber+has+worked+herself+into+the+starting+lineup+for+the+No.+18+ranked+Marquette+volleyball+team.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+Marquette+Athletics.%29

After just seeing action in 23 sets last season, Samantha Naber has worked herself into the starting lineup for the No. 18 ranked Marquette volleyball team. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

It was a whole new world for Samantha Naber when she stepped on foot Marquette’s campus ahead of her first fall semester of college.

Naber had just moved to Milwaukee for college from Burlington, Wisconsin, and had a difficult adjustment to both a higher level of academics and volleyball.

“I was like ‘Man this is hard. I have to travel this much, I have to be this good at volleyball, good at school and I have to figure out a way to connect with my family and friends. How do I do this?'” Naber said. “Honestly I don’t think I handled it the best I could. I kind of shut down.”

After being named as the Racine County Player of the Year in 2019, Naber saw action in just 23 sets in her first season last season with the Golden Eagles.

With the changes in the speed of the game and the intensity of their practices, head coach Ryan Theis said that it can be hard for a first-year libero to make an impact.

“You go from a world of high school or club where there’s one or two aggressive servers on a team and they’re probably not serving you, so you’re not seeing a lot of aggressive serves,” Theis said. “Then you come in here and our goal is to try and get almost 200 passing reps on your forearms every day and that tests you.”

Naber said what kept her afloat in her first year was her faith and the people around her.

“My real honest answer is the Lord. I had my identity in volleyball, school and my relationships with my family. And when all of that wasn’t going perfectly I didn’t know what to turn to and what I did was I turned to the Lord,” Naber said. “He became my strength, my stability throughout all of that and has really helped me pull through to this day.”

Despite all her struggle, Naber was inserted into the starting lineup from the beginning of the season for the now No. 18 ranked Golden Eagles and has played 49 of the 51 sets Marquette has played so far this season.

“In the spring she got to spend a lot of time working as a right back defensive specialist, which was completely new to her. So the angles are totally different and she did really well with it,” Theis said. “We have matches where she plays at a really high level at right back defense and then her serve-receive has continued to improve and both of those things added up to more playing time.”

For her teammate and senior Carly Skrabak, she said the biggest growth for Naber has been her confidence in herself.

Just seeing her like on the court this year and kind of stepping into her new role, she’s in a really good job at that and I think a big part of that’s been her confidence,” Skrabak said. “In terms of her play, her defense has improved a lot. She’s like covering a lot of ground, her range is just really good.”

Behind Skrbak, Naber and the rest of the back row players for the Golden Eagles, they have held teams to just a .181 hitting percentage, good for second in the Big East. Skrabak said she credits part of that to the relationship between Naber and herself.

I kind of balance her out I think,” Skrabak said. “There’s never any communication issues. She’s always knows what’s going to happen when she steps in. No balls really drop between us and that’s really important, especially since she’s in the back row of the whole time.”

Not only does Naber continue to grow and flourish on the court, she has also worked to create the same culture of growth within the Milwaukee community.

Back in July of 2021, the volleyball team volunteered at the Miracle League of Milwaukee, an organization that gives people with special needs the opportunity to play all manner of sports including basketball and baseball. During the event, Naber made sure to pitch to every single player.

“That’s definitely Sam. She’s always trying to make people feel included and she does really well with younger children,” Skrabak said. “In those types of situations, she’s always awesome because she’s the first one to reach out her hand and help them any way she can.”

Naber said it’s in her nature to not leave anyone out.

“It’s a gift that I can see when people are insecure or they’re getting left out. Just listening to them can go such a long way,” Naber said. “I want to give them confidence. Give them attention because that makes them more confident that’s what makes the experience.”

She said her faith and upbringing has made her who she is today.

“I learned from example (from those in my family),” Naber said.  “But specifically I just have a heart for those people because I wanted to take care of the people who maybe are less fortunate or who don’t have that confidence.”

This article was written by Jackson Gross. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @JacksonGrossMU.