July 26, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - Sammie Bane started climbing Jacobs' ladder last season as a collegiate rookie. She made a significant impact in trying to get Marshall's volleyball program back to where it was.
Thundering Herd Coach Mitch Jacobs is entertaining the MU summer youth camps this week, pointed toward his 11th Marshall season, and feeling much better about his program than he did, say, 10 months ago.
Bane, shall we say, cured the bane of Jacobs' existence last season.
Jacobs inserted Bane deeper into the Herd's 2011 plans after his team's 2-12 start. The Herd was plagued by injuries and a personnel malaise, and Jacobs decided Marshall needed an infusion of the freshman's enthusiasm and uncommon leadership. So, he made the Indiana freshman the floor captain.
And after a 3-14 start, Marshall finished 7-7 and closed by winning the annual "Golden Ball" rivalry match over West Virginia for the ninth time in 10 seasons.
It's surely not where the Herd wanted to be, going 10-21 (8-12 Conference USA) after a 12-20 finish in 2010. Those downers came on the heels of seven 20-win seasons in Jacobs' first eight MU years.
"We were just struggling, had three big injuries and it all hurt our whole start to the season," Jacobs said. "We were struggling to find the stability we needed and Sammie gave us that. Through the whole time, she never had one sign of doubt, one sign of, `Did I make a mistake coming here?'
"The more responsibility we gave her, the more the team flourished. She just brought, in a true sense, leadership. She was a freshman, but she understands it, how to lead. Now, there are growing pains through that, but she's is the quarterback role, the floor captain."
By the end of the season, Bane was named to the six-player Conference USA All-Freshman Team. She was the C-USA Setter of the Week in the season's final week, reaching a personal goal after gritting her teeth and seeing fellow freshman setter Caitlin Ogletree of Houston win it four times earlier in the year.
The 5-foot-4 Bane was the shortest player on the 2011 Herd roster, and while the Brownstown, Ind., product played big for Jacobs' team, she said getting through the Herd's early woes was confounding.
"It's probably the hardest thing had to overcome and get through in my sporting career," Bane said. "I played basketball, ran track and played volleyball in high school, so I know disappointments. But this one was something that as a team, we had to get together, we had to figure it out. After those first 13 games, we kind of turned it around, which was a really good feeling, but before that it was really hard."
Bane wasn't flying solo in her frustration. Jacobs' program has undergone personnel exits for what the coach said relates to attitude adjustment. While Bane points out the 2012 Herd "will be more experienced on the court because the (2011) freshmen will be sophomores and the sophomores are juniors," the 2012 Herd roster still has 11 of 15 players who are in their first two collegiate seasons.
Cameron Yoho was the lone senior on the 2011 club. Bane's fellow Indianan, outside hitter Katy Schad, has that distinction this coming season, which opens Aug. 24 at the Henderson Center against Wright State, in the annual Thunder Invitational. Preseason practice begins Aug. 8.
"Cameron was doing a really good job kind of holding things together off the court," Jacobs said. "When you're losing, it's hard. When these kids come to a program they expect to win ... we needed that leadership on the court, and the more responsibility we put on Sammie, the better we got.
"When we made her floor captain we also got (then-sophomore outside hitter) Laura Der back, and a combo of the two kind of allowed Sammie to have more leeway and freedom to say what she needed to say, do what she needed to do to get everybody to another level. That enabled us to finish the season over .500 after a really bad start.
"That left us with a good feel and it also really helped show who really wants to make this change and get us back to a championship program, and who really didn't want to put the work into it."
Bane said the difficult part after the respectable finish late last November has been the long offseason priming for 2012.
"Volleyball has always been my first love, my favorite sport, and it's always been what I want to excel in," Bane said. "And while it's not as hard (playing collegiately) as I thought it would be, of course, I miss the other sports.
"But we have individual workouts, pickup we would play, and you know you're working to be better the next season. That was our job this spring, our goal. We've been working hard all though spring to make a change in our season in the fall ... The chemistry, we spent a lot of time just trying to figure it out; we were almost there last year, I think, but it never clicked. Hopefully, what we have now will bring good things."
Jacobs has the only Marshall program to win a Conference USA title as the Herd heads toward its eighth school year in the Dallas-based league. The Herd won the 2005 C-USA Tournament and an NCAA berth. The 2007 regular-season C-USA champs were conference tournament upset victims.
"Our goal this season is to win. Just win," Bane said. "Get off to a good start and get into the conference and dominate. And we want to get more fans. Another one of our players, Jaylene Berrien, and myself, we want to go out and do what we have to do to bring in more fans. We need to let people know when we're playing.
"We need to do whatever we can to get people to watch us. Last year, we were a team that during some games, people wanted to watch, but we lost a lot early. Our goal this year is, on the court, make for a good atmosphere for fans so they want to come, play in a way they can really get into."
Jacobs said he's sees the team transformation continue in the offseason. And while Bane should improve on her numbers (10.3 assists per set), the coach said other parts of her role are more crucial to the still-young Herd.
"When you've got a girl like Sammie here all summer, and girl like Laura, the entire group has started to flourish in terms of their work ethic," Jacobs said. "We've got a senior (Schad) who has kind of had an up-and-down career with injuries, and she's in the best shape of her career, and I think a lot of that has to do with kind of a snot-nosed freshman who's not going to take any crap from anybody.
"To be real honest, Katy Schad is so excited to play again, and the fact was is there were players around her, ones her age, who kind of were bringing things down and she was falling into that level. Now, she realizes what she's missed out on. She sees these young players who want to win so bad."
Bane doesn't want to look back, unless the discussion is about getting Marshall volleyball back to C-USA respectability after last year's 10th-place finish.
"Coach talked to me about taking more responsibility last season and I think I've taken even more during the spring," Bane said. "I want to carry that over into the season and really be the best leader I can be, keeping our chemistry together.
"It can be a long season, and when you're losing, it drags out. Halfway through last year was like that. We're with one another 24/7, and people can get grouchy. It's about keeping everybody cool, keeping everybody together. The leaders do that."