Sharkey gives Huskies more options on offense

Photo provieded to the Daily Mining Gazette The Crusaders’ Briana Sharkey (second from right) celebrates with her teammates after getting a point during a match last season.

HOUGHTON — Fans looking at the Michigan Tech Huskies volleyball roster for the 2018 season can see one rather strange thing: there are three setters on the roster.

Head coach Matt Jennings is excited about bringing in Lodi, Wisconsin, native Briana Sharkey to keep sophomore Laura DeMarchi and redshirt junior Mariel Leibovitz on their toes.

“I think Briana has a huge ceiling,” said Jennings. “I think (she) will be a very good setter for us. How we insert her into the plan this year is to be determined.

“Mariel consistently brings a lot to the position too. I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a team with this much depth at the setter position.”

How did the Huskies end up with this luxury?

Prior to the 2016 season, as then-senior Rachel Pohlod was preparing to finish up her final season with Michigan Tech volleyball, Jennings took a look at the hole her graduation would create and got proactive about finding who could push Leibovitz for the starting job in the years that followed.

With the signing of DeMarchi not yet certain, Jennings went searching in the greater Madison, Wisconsin, area and found the 5-foot-11 Sharkey.

Stuck with a high school season of inactivity due to a transfer, Sharkey made the most of her audition with Jennings and eventually verbally committed to Michigan Tech.

Not long after, DeMarchi, a native of Italy, signed as well, joining the Huskies afterwards and then went on to have a 2017 to remember with the Huskies.

Sharkey felt that Michigan Tech was an intriguing place to go and decided to give the team everything she could, battling with DeMarchi and Leibovitz for playing time.

“They (have been) improving a lot over the past few years,” said Sharkey. “That is super exciting, and I wanted to be on a team that was good for my level and would push me.”

Seeing how the program has grown under Jennings drew Sharkey to the area.

“It makes me want to work harder to play on a team that wants to continue growing and improving,” she said.

As a setter, Sharkey is often just outside the center of attention, as it is her job to distribute the ball to her team’s hitters to score key points throughout a match. She enjoys making sure her teammates are in the best positions possible to come away with crowd-pleasing hits.

“I just like working hard to make my team look better,” she said. “If attention does come to me, because I am working hard, that’s cool, but as long as my team is looking good, I am fine with that.”

Sharkey played two seasons at Lodi High School, which sits about halfway between Baraboo and Madison on W-113. As a Blue Devil, she earned All-Conference Honorable Mention during her freshman campaign in 2014 while playing outside hitter. As a sophomore, she was named to the All-Conference First Team.

Lodi is about half the size of Houghton in population, and that was another factor in the positive for Sharkey, who enjoys small-town life.

“It makes me feel more at home,” she said. “I like all the support in the community. It makes me feel safe.”

After two seasons with the Blue Devils, she decided she needed a different challenge in the classroom, so she transferred to Madison Edgewood. She had to sit out her junior year, something that is not easy for a young athlete looking to advance her skill set, however, she did learn a lot from the experience.

“I definitely learned a lot,” said Sharkey. “I had to sit out a year and I learned a lot more about volleyball by just watching (it) and how things play out.

“It was frustrating (to go) from starting (to watching), but I knew that it was for the best,” she said. “I think my volleyball IQ has grown a lot. That’s a bonus.”

As a senior, she served as a team captain and was voted the Crusaders’ team Most Valuable Player. She also earned All-Badger Conference First Team honors and All-Area Honorable Mention.

Getting back to playing games made her senior year fun.

“Being able to be a leader on the court, instead of just in practice, was fun,” Sharkey said.

She also had an experience in 2015 that few athletes get as she was selected to the USA Select National A2 Training Program in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for club play. She found she really enjoyed it because she had a chance to grow closer to her teammates, something that she could not do in high school due to the fact that she transferred schools.

Sharkey is committed to being a Husky, even though the school does not offer the program she hoped to get into as a college student. She plans to further her learning both on and off the court.

“They didn’t quite have my degree, but that is okay because I am working around it,” said Sharkey. “I want to continue to grow with my volleyball experience and volleyball IQ.”