Seven strong, Jeeps conditioned for prosperity

By JOSEPH FANELLI
Herald Sports Writer

DUBOIS — There was a rare sighting Thursday night at the Northeast Dubois gym. It wasn’t a win, which have come in bunches lately for the Class 1A No. 9 Jeep volleyball team. And it wasn’t the laughs, which are as much a part of a Jeep match as a ball and a net.

No, it was an opposing team with a roster that didn’t double the size of Northeast Dubois’.

Johnson

“Shoals is about our size,” coach Stephanie Schepers said with a laugh.

The Jeeps play a rotation of seven girls most nights, and those seven quickly ran their Blue Chip Conference foe right off the court Thursday with a 25-16, 25-11, 25-15 sweep. The three sets totaled 50 minutes and the usual seven Jeep players, with sophomore Rachel Meyer getting some time because of the big margin, were on the court for just about every point.

A small roster means conditioning is almost as vital as passing and setting. The girls understand there won’t be anyone coming in for them late in a set for a quick breather. Although Emily Lueken is perfectly fine with that. Even if her legs are lacking, she doesn’t want to be anywhere else but on the court.

“I like it because your muscles are always going. You’re always ready for everything,” Lueken said. “You’re not sitting on the bench and having to come in.

“But I’ll never ask to be taken out. I love playing and I love being in the whole time.”

But as important as conditioning is, Schepers doesn’t waste time in practice having the team just run. She focuses on skills, building endurance while churning through drills to improve hitting and rotations.

“We don’t run,” she said. “I don’t believe in that. I’d rather run drill, drill, drill, drill, drill while they’re working on their skills as compared to, ”˜Just go run.’ So we do a lot of drills that are constant and whenever they get done, they’re tired.”

And with a varsity rotation of only seven girls, a versatile squad is just as important as a fit one. With little time off the court, every player is expected to chip in, even in areas they might not be suited for. Take Chloe Johnson for example, who is a quick and capable player and all of about 5-foot-6. But still, there she is at the front line with the rest of the hitters going up for blocks and kills.

The same goes for the front-line players, who are just as likely to be dropping for digs as gunning for points at the net. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. Lueken, for instance, looks just as natural up at the net as in the back line. A strong leaper, she recorded 14 digs in addition to six kills, a typical performance for a player who understands her role all over the court.

“I’m pretty comfortable in the back row,” Lueken said. “I’m pretty quick. I have good teammates back there to help me out. It’s pretty fun.”

“We don’t have (a lot to choose from),” Schepers added. “It’s hard and we have to make do and we have to adjust, and they do very well at that. We’ve got Chloe and even (setter Talia Terwiske); they’re not the tallest girls ... but we just work. We do a lot of jumping drills and really make ourselves feet like we’re 6 foot tall, even if we’re not.”

The Jeeps (14-5, 4-2) looked imposing on Thursday, though. An overmatched Jug Rox team had trouble returning Northeast Dubois’ incoming hits and led only twice in the three sets, never by more than two and never after the first six points. Outside hitter Kendra Jacob had 15 kills, including an early spike in the second set that actually had the Shoals players looking at each other in confusion. Jenna Stemle anchored the Jeeps defensively with 13 digs and Terwiske dished out 25 assists.

Northeast Dubois has won 10 matches in a row, seven in straight-set victories. They haven’t lost in 22 days and are 9-1 in September. They are rolling, which is important with the sectional less than a month away.

Still, Schepers said they haven’t been affected by the recent success and ranking. They’re still looking for results on the court.

“We’re aware (of the ranking),” Schepers said. “The rankings are nice, but it’s ultimately what people vote. It has nothing to do with what the girls are doing in the gym. I tell them, ”˜Yeah, it’s awesome to be ranked and have people see that,’ but at the same time, we’re winning games. We’re beating (good teams). ... That is a confidence boost. ... You can let some of the other stuff roll off a little bit because they know they’re good and they know that they’ve got the ability to do it.”

“I think our confidence, really,” Lueken said about what has allowed the team to be so successful recently. “We have been playing really well together and just trying to stay up, even when we mess up, and just play as a team.”

Although for all the professionalism exuded from the Jeeps about winning and ignoring rankings, Lueken did at least show some excitement about the new state recognition, even if only briefly.

“Pretty awesome,” Lueken said, beaming. “Yeah, that’s awesome.”

Contact Joseph Fanelli at jfanelli@dcherald.com




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