HOUGHTON -Madeline Haben will be the undisputed on-court leader of this year's Michigan Tech volleyball team, but with the 5-foot-6 setter entering her senior season, she'll leave some huge shoes to fill in the future.
That's why Tech coach Matt Jennings is bringing in not one, but two setters, in this year's freshman class: Rachel Pohlod and Jonna Villemure. Let the competition begin.
"I told both the setters coming in that this is Maddie's show," Jennings said. "Maddie is a senior who is incredibly talented and exemplifies what I want out of a hard-working player. I want nothing more than for them to emulate her this year and learn from her. I've told Maddie the same. I told her very clearly I want you to embrace those two and teach them, have them look up to you and fear you at the same time."
While Pohlod, a 5-7 setter from the greater Pittsburgh area, is the more refined of the two new setters right now (a future Tech Tomorrow feature will be written about her), Villemure, a 5-8 setter from Milford, Mich., is up for the challenge.
"I know Maddie is the senior setter, but I plan on learning from her. All the girls love her," said Villemure, whose mother Tammy played college volleyball at Northwood University. "I met Rachel, and I'm really competitive. I think both of us, being the same position in the same year, are going to try to beat each other out and it's going to make us both better."
Villemure, who started playing volleyball in sixth grade and finding her niche as setter by the end of junior high, was named to the 2012 Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association all-region team downstate. She was a two-time all-conference member, and finished her career fourth all-time in assists (2,245) at Milford High School. She also played for A2 Volleyball Club out of Ann Arbor.
Despite the almost year-round volleyball experience - high school open gyms and season from June through November, and club from December through June - Jennings said Villemure is a bit more raw than Pohlod.
"With Jonna, she's going to take a little more time to develop, which is exciting because she's incredibly athletic and from the day I met her, she made it clear this is the place she wanted to be," Jennings said.
Villemure has a lot of family in the Upper Peninsula, particularly on her father Matt's side, and Tech jumped out at her during a visit. A little snow (or even a lot of snow) won't scare away Villemure, either.
"I was looking around at schools, and I really just hate the heat," she said. "I went up there, visited it and I liked it. I know all the incoming freshmen because they all played club volleyball at the same tournaments, and we talked."
She felt welcomed by the rest of the women on the team, too, as well as the community. Another big selling point was the proximity of the Copper Country Humane Society, and the volunteer opportunities it provides for Villemure, who will be majoring in biology at Tech with aspirations of one day becoming a veterinarian.
While she believes Tech will provide her with a good education to prepare her for the future, Tech volleyball fans can hope a good freshmen setter competition will pave the way for a promising future after Haben.
"(Villemure) knew the challenge in front of her with Maddie being our setter and our leader, and we had already got the commitment from Rachel," Jennings said. "Even with all that, she said I'm up for the challenge and this is where I want to be, and any time you get that out of a kid, that's the right attitude."