DeKALB – For three years, Northern Illinois volleyball player Justine Schepler didn't stick out.
Through her junior year, the former Sycamore standout didn't wear the opposite shirt of her teammates that the libero dons. Instead, as a defensive specialist, she played one of the most unnoticeable positions to outside observers.
In a way, that progression out of the limelight was a perfect fit for the hard-working senior, who took over the libero duties this season.
“She's a Schepler, so any Schepler works really hard, and they're humble and all they do is they bring their lunch pail and they work hard, whether it's the parents or [former NIU tight end] Jason or her,” coach Ray Gooden said. “She's continued to just understand the game more, and not just get wrapped up in just the skill, and that's her biggest strength right now.”
Now, she's ready to take the all-important libero spot, and being the leader of the Huskies' defense has been an adjustment. Her new role means she's the go-to player defensively, positioning herself to defend the opposing team's most dangerous player instead of deferring to a teammate.
“Especially being a libero, you want to take almost every ball,” she said. “That's a change, because most times, I'm a DS and I want the libero to take the ball so I'm trying to help her out. Now it's me that's got to step up and take that ball. That's a big difference but I actually like it. I played libero before, so it's not like I've never played it, but at the college level it's just so much faster, so I think that's the biggest change.”
When she chose to attend NIU after originally committing to play for James Madison University, she knew the road to this spot would be a long one with Maddie Hughes already in place. While the path she chose hasn't been filled with accolades, it may have made Schepler into the player she is today.
“Justine, I just feel has done a perfect progression into becoming that libero,” Sarah Angelos said. “Since we were freshmen, she got some playing time then, and in the last couple of years in the way that we needed her, maybe playing middle back or right back, now she's left back in the libero spot. She's stepped up so much in terms of her confidence and leadership ability. I know I look to Justine to be a leader on the court.”
Schepler agrees with Gooden that the work ethic needed to succeed at her new position is simply in the Schepler blood.
“I would say we're notorious for working hard,” Schepler said. “I'm sure he's talking about my brother and myself. We really like to pride ourselves on working hard. Even if we're not having a good day, I like to say I went to practice and tried my best, so I think that's pretty cool that he said that.”