Schossberger Soars Above Competition

Volleyball's Manda Schossberger

It's Friday night at the Malkin Athletic Center and the Harvard women's volleyball team is leading, 15-14, in the second set of its match against Cornell.

Captain Maia Forman sets up a shot. Gradually lifting herself into the air is number 11. She pulls her arm back and spikes the ball down the middle of the Big Red's defense to win the set.

There's a big hush over the crowd as number 11 comes back down. She smiles to her sister cheering in the stands.

Number 11 is Co-Captain Manda Schossberger, one of the most feared hitters in the collegiate game.

Schossberger, a Kirkland house junior, went from the penthouse to the outhouse when she joined the Harvard women's volleyball program. At Highland High School in Pocatello, Idaho, Schossberger played for one of the best teams in the country, while the Crimson squad she joined consistently finished at the bottom of the Ivy League.

The sociology concentrator started playing volleyball competitively in the eighth grade. She led her high school team to a district championship in her junior year and a second-place finish in the state finals during her senior year, when her team finished with a 26-2 record.

"Manda was a very good hitter," says Highland Coach Peggy Peterson, who coached Schossberger in high school. "She was also an aggressive player. We relied heavily on her spiking and serving abilities. She was also a very good blocker and backcourt player. I was pleased to have her on our team."

Schossberger has mutual feelings about her former coach.

"She was a phenomonal coach," Schossberger says. "She knew everything that was happening in the volleyball world. She knew all of the new offensive and defensive sets--so we were always prepared for other teams."

When it came time to apply to colleges, Schossberger already had a link with Harvard--her older sister, Cyndy, who had come to Harvard the year before.

"It was really nice having someone from home," the younger Schossberger says. "It's great having her in the stands cheering for me. She is one of my most faithful fans. She comes to as many games as possible."

But when the Idaho native arrived at Harvard, there were no banners or titles to be won. The rafters at the MAC were empty.

"It was really frustrating at first," Schossberger says. "It's hard coming from a program that wins all the time to one that loses a lot."

During her freshmen year, the team finished with a 5-16 record under first-year Coach Wayne Lem. The record may be a little deceiving, since the squad was finally able to play competitively with other teams for the first time in a couple of years.

Even though the team lost a lot of games, Schossberger enjoyed her first year as a Crimson spiker, especially because of the team's camaraderie.

"We're a really close team," she says. "That helps out a lot. We do other things besides volleyball together. We can talk to each other, and we don't have any cliques."

She also feels that Lem has been the catalyst for the program's recent success.

"Wayne's a great coach," she says. "He rebuilt the program from scratch. He's done a great job letting people know their roles on the team."

Schossberger also formed a devastating combination on the court with Forman. Together, this duo has sparked the Crimson with agressive play. As a result, Harvard is now one of the top three programs in the Ivy League.

"Maia was basically the only person on the team with experience," Schossberger says. "She was the backbone of the team. She is a type of person that makes everyone else around her better."

Last year, Schossberger began to enjoy the success that she once took for granted in high school. The Crimson finished the season with an 18-10 record, the best ever for a Harvard squad.

Seeded sixth in last year's Ivy League tournament, the Crimson finished in third place--just two points shy of the final. The sqaud lost the deciding set to eventual champion Princeton, 15-13.

"It was a tough loss," Schossberger says. "We had several match points, and we didn't put them away. We should have won the match, but overall, it was still a great tourney."

A versatile athlete, the 5-ft., 7-in. Schossberger has also excelled in track at Harvard. Before coming to Cambridge, she was also a star tennis player, winning two state singles titles.

"She's a leader on and off the court," teammate Carolyn Burger says. "She's an all-around athlete. It's great setting to her. She can blast just about any ball."

"Besides having all-around athletic ability, she's a very intelligent player," Co-Captain Susie Nemes says. "She knows when to use each one of her skills. She's definitely our best hitter, and she's a great defensive player."

Schossberger and her teammates have set out to improve on last year's third-place finish. Harvard is currently in a first-place tie with Princeton and Brown.

"She's an excellent hitter, but it shouldn't be forgotten that she's also an excellent backcourt player," Forman says. "She's an all-around player. Manda is almost singlehandily our entire offense right now."

It's the fifth set of the Cornell match, and Harvard puts the match, away with a spike. After the match, Cyndy comes to give her sister a hug and asks her about her right thumb, which has torn ligaments.

After the team meeting and celebration, Schossberger picks up her bag and walks out with her sister.

It's just another day at the MAC.

But the moments are still there.