DeKALB – Northern Illinois volleyball coach Ray Gooden wants freshman Justine Schepler to "be like a sponge and soak everything in" during her first season with the Huskies.
"As coaches, we try to do our best to expand their volleyball minds," Gooden said. "We know that their knowledge of volleyball compared to mine, is pretty small. So we throw a lot of information at them."
Five games into the season, Schepler, a Sycamore graduate who holds the Spartans' digs records for both season (325) and career (1,079), already sees the difference between college volleyball and high school or club. She's learning new aspects of the game that she will need at the collegiate level, such as keeping her arms out on the court to give herself more size, or staying in one place at a time as opposed to moving around like she would do at Sycamore.
"I'm used to moving a lot in a match," Schepler said. "Really simple is better in this game, because if you keep moving you're going to get tipped on or something.
"So it's a different way to play the game, because it's faster paced. So you have to be ready at all times for everything."
Gooden and his coaching staff like to preach strategy such as what do do without the ball, and in Schepler's case, putting her arms out at all times.
“We want her to be, even though she's only (5-foot-4), we want to make her as big as we possibly can,” Gooden said. “We want her to control more area with her size.”
Another aspect Schepler will have to get used to is going from being a star player at Sycamore, where she was a first-team all-conference selection her junior and senior years, to being a role player in her first season with the Huskies, who are undefeated at 5-0 on the season. After playing libero at Sycamore, she has a smaller role as a defensive specialist at NIU, yet she knows she can learn from the Huskies' current libero, senior Maddie Hughes.
“I feel like I have a really good person to look at,” Schepler said. “Maddie is amazing. It's good to have her in front of me. I feel like I can learn from her. Obviously I want to be a libero but I know this year it's probably not going to happen.”
While he knows Schepler will play a bigger role eventually, so far Gooden has been happy with what she has been able to do in her first season at NIU.
“She plays a vital role for us, though it's limited,” Gooden said. “For her to be a freshman and come in and have to do stuff, it's pretty cool. She's been in a big chunk of our games.”
“From what I knew about Justine, I knew that she was a really hard worker. I knew she was a very strong kid. Since we've had her in the gym those things have held true. She's got a quiet confidence about her that you love in a defensive player.”