Madeline Sackman headed right to the bench. She grabbed a water bottle, placed it on the back of her neck and leaned back in exhaustion. The Skyline junior was feeling the results of four intense games of diving all over the hardwood floor against host Dexter in a classic SEC crossover match on Tuesday.
She wouldn’t sit long. Less than a minute, really. Then back to her feet and in the huddle with her teammates around head coach Chris Cristian. You see, there was still a game five to be played. So it was a few more minutes of reaching, jumping, diving, celebrating, digging, consoling, leading and in the end recovering from a tough five-set loss to one of the best teams in the area.
Madeline Sackman stands out on the volleyball court. And it’s not because she wears a different jersey as the team’s starting libero. Well, there is that. But she stands out because of her intensity and the way she leaves it all on the floor – an overused expression but as fitting here as the blue jersey she wears.
A libero is a defensive specialist position added to the game of indoor volleyball in 1999 along with a set of special rules designed to help foster more digs and rallies and to make the game more exciting. The libero is the only player that is not limited by the regular rules of rotation and usually replaces the middle-blocker position when they rotate to the back row and never rotates to the front row.
The University of Michigan’s Jenna Lerg summed up her position on the volleyball court to weloveannarbor.com this way: “I get to pretty much control our serve-receive and see where things are. So it’s almost like I’m the quarterback of the defense and serve-receive.”
Sackman has a similar definition of what her role on the Skyline varsity team is and the importance of her position on the floor. But she also stresses the importance of the leadership qualities a libero must process in order for a team to be successful.
“I pick up my teammates when they’re down and it’s my responsibility to keep us going and focused,” she said Tuesday after the Eagles’ tough loss on the road. “I’m the person who does whatever it takes to help out the team.”
Sackman inherited the Skyline libero position from someone she knows well who also was more than willing to show her the ropes. “My sister was always the libero and she was the one who got me into volleyball,” Madeline said.
Megan Sackman graduated last year after three seasons as the Eagles’ libero but not without leaving someone very capable of filling her shoes for the next couple of seasons.
“She has taught me everything I know,” Madeline said.
Madeline, who didn’t start playing the game she loves until eighth grade, began her volleyball career at Skyline as the team’s captain on junior varsity. A freshman as a captain on JV says a lot about her leadership skills and her ability to lead others through what is often the ups and downs of a volleyball match.
She played varsity last year and saw playing time as a defensive specialist. This year she made the switch to libero.
Sackman also plays club soccer but she says volleyball is her go-to sport even though she has been kicking a soccer ball for as long as she could walk.
“My dad was my first coach and I played travel soccer and was very much into it until eighth grade when I realized I hated running,” she said. “I love lifting but running is just not my thing.”
Well, there is one position in soccer where she doesn’t have to run. And while she does play goalkeeper, she also sees some playing time at forward, which does require a little bit of running which she says is “why volleyball is my sport.”
She has played club soccer for Ann Arbor United and Michigan Tigers. She plays club volleyball for the Hurricanes out of Canton.
When her volleyball career at Skyline is over Sackman will more than likely hand in her libero jersey for good and set her sights on other interests.
“I don’t plan on playing volleyball in college because I want to focus only on academics,” she said. “I’m looking into the Naval Academy so I’m really focused on school. I want those leadership skills you get at the Naval Academy so I can apply them to my job, my career … my life.”
She wants to go from leading her volleyball teammates to leading her co-workers or just being a leader in whatever direction her life takes her.
But the rest of her life will have to wait because right now the intensity and focus is with her teammates and helping lead them to where they want to go. Which is exactly where?
“We want to win Districts. That’s where our focus is right now,” she said. “We just have to play the way we know we can play … play together as a team and play with confidence.”
Skyline’s libero certainly has the confidence in her teammates. And it’s her job, or at least part of her job, to make sure they believes in themselves too.