MUNSTER | Munster volleyball coach Tracy Afman is not a big fan of putting sophomores on the starting roster.
Rarely do they have the experience or skill set to compete in a tough Northwest Crossroads Conference and with the schedule that the defending sectional title holders create.
When Afman put not one, not two, but three sophomores in the starting rotation, she even asked herself how this would work.
"They worked extremely hard in practice to fix (what's wrong) and that speaks to their personalities," Afman said. "They're putting the effort in to make sure that there's no question in your mind when you watch that they belong."
On a team with six seniors, the starting three sophomores have done enough to keep themselves there. Middle hitter Elizabeth Kloos ties for the highest jump of any player on the team, setter Morgan Switalla helped take a spot left open when junior Madyson Moyer was needed in a more versatile role, and outside hitter Shannon Farrell has led her team in kills in five wins this season.
"The seniors even tell us now that they don't think of us as sophomores," Switalla said.
Maturing as the year has progressed, the trio is setting up not only the late-season success, but also a promising future. That's a part of what Afman was counting on when she tabbed the three in August.
"They have that killer instinct (now), where before they were afraid to make mistakes," Afman said. "Now they're not afraid to make those mistakes and are able to make the big plays when we need them to."
The Mustangs lost to both Lowell and Andrean during the first half of the NCC schedule. When the second half rolled around, Munster beat the Red Devils then handed the Niners their first loss in conference play last week.
"As the games have gone on, we have matured," Kloos said. "We know where to hit it, we know how to get those points."
With Division I talent consistently coming out of the Munster program in the last several years, the trio knew that the pressure was on without a big-name middle this season.
"Since in years before we've always had a D-I player, this year we didn't so the shoes were bigger to fill," Switalla said.
"Since we're a younger team, we've had to prove what we can do," Kloos said.
That proof, and the last two weeks of wins, have given Afman confidence that starting sophomores is a trick that can work.
"I have to look down the road as well as at this year," Afman said. "We're young, and we're not with six seniors, but we graduated so much with seven seniors last year, that we don't have the experience. The six seniors provide so much stability for this team. It's great to also have the three sophomores, who have proven that we can see a future with them as well."