DePauw coach Deb Zellers is thrilled with the fact that she landed Terre Haute North graduate Mary Kate Etling two years ago.
The Tigers’ sophomore has led the team to a 15-game winning streak, good for a tie for second best in school history. The 6-foot-tall Etling is more than an aggressive middle hitter averaging a team-best 3.14 kills per set and leading the team in blocks with 58.
Etling also played a key role in helping Zellers assemble the young core of players that has the Tigers on a major roll.
“I think Mary Kate was instrumental in helping us recruit the strong incoming class we have including our setter [Faith Rolwes],” Zellers said. “They developed a relationship right from the very beginning. Mary Kate’s one of main players helping to recruit. She's a great ambassador for our program. She’s a great kid. Proud to see her development as a player and her growth from a personal standpoint.”
Etling’s 17 kills propelled DePauw to a 15th straight victory Saturday and then led the Tigers into action Tuesday night against Ohio Wesleyan as DePauw celebrated its “Think Pink” evening to raise money and awareness for breast cancer.
The Tigers lost their first two matches of the season — one to Division III’s top-ranked Washington University — before running off the current streak.
“We knew that it was going to be a new feel. We didn’t know what to expect,” Etling said. “Then we competed with [Washington] so we knew we were pretty good.”
Etling played sparingly as a freshman, but she’s had a breakthrough season for the Tigers after the year to acclimate to the rigors of being a student and athlete at the college level.
“Coming into college, I knew in high school I was a good player. Every college player was a good player in high school so I had to separate myself,” said Etling, who worked throughout the offseason with a personal trainer and worked out with her teammates.
Work ethic has been one way Etling has emerged as a young leader on the Tigers, Zellers explained.
“She’s been emerging as a young leader with her strong work ethic in practice. Just a combination of being a good kid and working hard has put her in a leadership role,” Zeller said.
“She really worked very hard in the offseason, that hard work was very evident in the offseason. She improved quickness, jumping ability and overall strength,” Zellers said. “That gave her a lot of confidence. Her on-court confidence was better. Really a player that other teams are keying in on and trying to stop when we're playing teams.”
Etling was named the North Coast Athletic Conference Player of the Week earlier this season.
“I never expected to be NCAC Player of the Week or anything. It was reassuring that as an individual and as a team that we are going somewhere,” Etling said.
Etling said new assistant coach Lauren Torvi, a Division III( All-American at Springfield (Mass.) in 2011, has been a positive influence as well.
“She’s on our setters about forcing the middle. I’d never really played with a setter with that mentality. I’ve been able to get more kills and more swings on the ball,” Etling said.
Simply put, More swings, more comfort and more confidence have Etling on a tear.
“Sometimes freshman have a difficult time just adjusting to college in general. I think she was one of those. I think this year she's been able to do more. She's just got so much more of a comfort level at DePauw,” Zellers said. “You can tell she's really happy this year. You can tell it took her a while to transition to that point.”
Etling said she and the Tigers are focused on not getting ahead of themselves, but they’re aware a matchup with No. 3-ranked Wittenberg is coming up Oct. 10 in Springfield, Ohio. Wittenberg is the defending conference and NCAA champions.
“We scrimmaged them before the season and played pretty well, but it will be a nice test to see how we’ve improved,” Etling said.
Zellers said Etling is helping keep the young Tigers focused on just that: improving every day.
“We're trying to take this 15-game win streak in stride. I think we have a sense of pride in our accomplishments. I think that we're really focused on staying discipline and not becoming complacent. We see so many areas we can improve,” Zellers said.