Nov. 1, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall volleyball is standing tall right now … and that’s not just a reference to 6-foot-3 sophomore outside hitter Lauren Legge.
The Thundering Herd is coming off an emotional victory Tuesday at West Virginia, rallying from behind in the third and fourth sets for a 3-1 victory and winning the “Battle for the Golden Ball” rivalry for the 10th time in the last 11 meetings.
Now, it’s a return to Conference USA play with a home weekend at the Henderson Center. UTEP (12-9, 5-4 C-USA) visits tonight (Friday) at 7, with second-place UTSA (16-7, 8-1) coming in Sunday at 1 p.m.
Coach Mitch Jacobs’ Herd (14-11, 7-2) is in fourth place in C-USA – and wants to stay there. The top four teams in the 15-team standings receive first-round byes in the 12-team C-USA Tournament, scheduled Nov. 21-24 at Middle Tennessee.
“The win at WVU was a huge one, and because it’s a Big 12 (conference) team, it’s even bigger,” Legge said after today’s early Herd workout. “West Virginia (16-8, 2-6 Big 12) has always been a rival, and I grew up around here in West Virginia (Pliny, in Putnam County), so that match has always been big for us.
‘The conference games mean more, sure, but that one meant a lot to our program.”
Marshall has a five-match win streak, and Legge said some of the recent success is due to the fact that a club with seven freshmen on the roster has found more cohesiveness in the second half of the season.
Jacobs said another factor in the team’s recent play has been skill development and versatility, some of that brought on in the first half of the season when senior outside hitter Laura Der had to sit out seven matches due to a concussion.
Jacobs’ strong 2013 recruiting class has provided more than depth, and with several MU freshmen having experience with clubs that played their way into nationals – and therefore a longer season than West Virginia players like Legge usually get – it has aided Marshall depth.
“With so many freshmen, at first it was hard working together, just getting to play as a team,” Legge said. “But now we’re rolling, putting it all together. At first it was hard getting everyone on the same page in every single practice, but now everyone is together, putting everything out there in practice and our matches.”
Legge played middle blocker earlier in the season, but since has become a starter
outside. With her height, she brings a different dimension to the position than outsides Der and freshman Cassie Weaver – which Jacobs uses to the Herd’s advantage.
“Lauren gives us that length, a good block out there on left side, and it gives other offenses things that they have to think about that they normally might not,” said Jacobs, in his 12th season on the Herd sideline and 21st as a college head coach. “Our other two lefts playing right now, Der or Weaver are both smaller players, both very athletic, but smaller, Lauren gives us a different skill set.
“She’s not going to take the really high ball and just go drive it down your throat. She gets quicker balls, she’s transitioning from the middle to the outside, so she’s getting balls more in tempo, faster tempo, and that makes it hard to block, too.
“And the fact she’s 6-3, so if she needs to go over you, she can. That made a really big difference at West Virginia. She got on top of their block quite a few times, where it hits the top of the block and goes flying out of bounds long, where you can’t take the ball. Just being up there without having to jump super-high to be touching tall, gives us the advantage, and Lauren is developing more shots, too.”
Jacobs has a roster of seven freshmen, three sophomores, junior setter Sammie Bane and seniors Der, Sacha Byous-McConnell and Dorothy Rahal.
A year ago, Legge was where the Herd rookies are as November begins. She said that helps her understand where half of this Marshall team is mentally and physically entering the final 3-4 weeks of the season.
“Exactly, that was me (in 2012),” Legge said. “I know it’s hard when you feel you don’t have anyone to go to. And last year we had more cliques, so it was harder to adjust.
“So, I’ve tried to be that person that they can come to and I understand where they are coming from because I was in their shoes last season.”
Jacobs said that because of Legge’s lack of longer club volleyball seasons, she was beginning to struggle as the leaves were falling a year ago.
“About this time last year, Lauren was tiring out; she hit that freshman wall,” Jacobs said. “(Middle blocker) Jillian Shemanski (another 2012 freshman) was the same thing, same deal. Now, you see the new Lauren Legge and one of the things about being as deep as we are this year, we are able to run with quite a few different lineups.
“Der being hurt early forced Lauren and Cassie to play before we expected them to or in different situations, but honestly since we’ve gone to Lauren being more outside, I don’t know we’ve lost more than one match (the Herd has won 6 of its last 7 and 9 of 11).”
After the two home matches tonight and Sunday, the Herd makes its final regular-season road trip to Southern Miss (12-12, 3-6) on Nov. 8 and league-leading Tulsa (20-4, 9-0) on Nov. 10. The regular-season finale is Nov. 15 at home against Middle Tennessee (14-8, 6-2).
Legge said the Herd, with a roster dominated by youth, is excited about the program’s future, but she said the focus remains on finishing strong for a team that was picked to finish eighth in the preseason C-USA coaches poll.
“The biggest thing about Lauren is she wants everything positive,” Jacobs said. “She wants to be a great player. She’s hard on herself that way.
“I’d like for her to ease off a little bit, because I think being hard on herself in the middle of a set can hurt you as the set develops. You need to shake it off sometimes and go on to the next play. The more she’s able to do that, the better player I think she can be.”