Schepler’s homegrown skill boosting volleyball defense

By Mike Romor

DeKalb | Justine Schepler has been a staple for volleyball’s back row since day one with the program.

Schepler, who grew up in neighboring Sycamore, has appeared in all but one match since she came to NIU, and she has been a reliable force for the team’s back row.

Despite growing up near Huskie nation, Schepler never truly considered NIU as a suitor her senior year of high school.

As a defensive specialist, Schepler was not heavily recruited until late in her high school career, and NIU was a quick turnoff because her older brother, Jason, was on the school’s football team.

Schepler acknowledged how tough it was to be recruited during spring 2010, just months before she would be playing for a university. Once it came down to NIU and James Madison University, Schepler decided to choose the local school despite her concerns of staying under Jason’s shadow.

“At first I was like, ‘I do not want to go to NIU because I’m just going to be [Jason’s] sister,’” Schepler said. “Everyone in high school knew him. Everyone knew Jason before me because he was older and very good at football and wrestling. I was hesitant at first, but I actually liked it because he was a good example of who a Schepler is, and he gave us a good reputation.”

Schepler has successfully created her own legacy as a libero for a volleyball program that has gone 35-13 in the MAC the past three seasons.

Becoming a libero as a senior puts extra emphasis on Schepler’s role as a leader of the younger defensive players on the roster.

She has been on the court in nearly every set in her now-fourth year with NIU, which gives Schepler another major reason to step into a leadership role.

“It’s fun to be a leader because you always have to be on your game,” Schepler said. “If it’s not, your attitude has to be right and you have to always be exuding positive energy. Being a leader helps because I always have to be doing the right things.”

Playing so close to home seemed like a drawback four years ago. Now, Schepler has seen benefits in playing just 10 minutes away from her home.

Schepler ultimately chose NIU because she realized she could differentiate herself from her brother and it was close enough for her family to support her. Coming to NIU also gave her the chance to pursue a degree in an accountancy program that was ranked in the top 25 in the country by Public Accounting Report.

“I don’t know if there are words [for how proud I am],” said Bill Schepler, Justine’s father. “There are a lot of people who are gifted both athletically and academically and when they go off to college … for a home game their parents have to travel two hours. My wife and I have to travel 10 minutes.

“To have that opportunity, where our children were both able to get excellent educations and high-level Div. I athletics so close to home, I feel very proud and blessed.”

Head coach Ray Gooden is usually willing to give some of his younger players a chance to prove themselves on the court. When he gave that opportunity to Schepler as a freshman, he saw she had what was necessary to strengthen his team’s back row.

From then to now, Gooden has seen plenty of improvement from the player he almost never landed.

“I think her overall confidence has improved,” Gooden said. “She’s always been one of the hardest workers we’ve had. She’s a leader and, overall, a good person.”