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Photo by Ben BachmannNew Prairie outside hitter Elise Swistek rises for a kill attempt during the Cougars' match with South Bend St. Joe on Aug. 24.

NEW CARLISLE — Speaking from personal experiences as an accomplished high school volleyball player in Peru, Ill. who went on to play in college at Purdue Fort Wayne, New Prairie coach Jordan Staus knows all about waiting your turn as an underclassman when it comes to taking on a bigger role within a team.

But for the 2018 version of the Cougars, Staus' first campaign as coach, it's been sophomore Elise Swistek who's taken a leadership-by-example role within the team.

"She's the one that I talk to when I need an honest answer that's not driven by emotion," Staus said. "For example, that's why she's my captain because she'll go up to an official, be calm, listen, do what you're supposed to do, where some kids are so caught up in that play that they can't calm themselves down."

Swistek leads the Cougars in sets played (tied for first with 90), total kills (377), kills per set (4.2), kill percentage (43.9) and hitting percentage (.322). While Staus found great success as a middle hitter for LaSalle-Peru High School, she's found numerous similarities between her and her new team's best hitter.

"It's gonna sound super creepy, but she reminds me of myself," Staus said. "The way she acts as a player is how I acted as a player and still act today. I hate losing and I get upset when we're doing something wrong. I can feel myself almost cry because I'm so angry [laughs], but she's the same way. She plays the same way I did. If we need a point, she wants to go get it and she goes out and gets that point. She's not necessarily that vocal leader, but she's definitely that performance leader."

Swistek may not be the loudest player on the floor, but Staus believes she's just scratching the surface of her full skill set and potential as a leader.

"I think as she gets older, she'll be more of a vocal leader because when you gain experience on the floor, you get that want to speak up and lead," Staus said. "That'll come, too. As an underclassman, you feel like with the upperclassmen, you have to stay in your place a little bit, but she finds other ways to lead out there on the floor."

Staus coached under 2008 Olympic men's volleyball gold medalist Lloy Ball with the prestigious Team Pineapple Club program before arriving in New Carlisle. After her freshman season on the varsity roster, Swistek approached matters with an experienced player and coach like Staus coming from northeast Indiana to the Cougars with a sense of optimism, including the challenge of having a hard-nosed coach on the sideline. 

"I think when she first got here, I think we were excited but a little bit scared because we heard she went to a big college," Swistek said. "I feel like it's made me a better player. Last year felt a little slower for me. I feel like I kinda lost some of it because Dunes volleyball is much faster, but this year with her, it feels constant and I like that."

Staus' intensity as a player carries over from coaching on the sideline to also scrimmaging with her players, where she admits without hestation that she's cut throat.

"She's a tough coach," Swistek said. "It's because she really wants to win, even though she's not playing. She encourages us, she pushes us to be better and it's nice having that."

The two have a good player-coach relationship in their first season together and Staus welcomes the challenge of molding Swistek into the best player she can be both for sectional play, which starts tonight at Mishawaka Marian, and her career moving forward .

"She's a good player, she works hard," Staus said. "My responsibility as a coach is to take that and amplify that ... try to challenge her to do more on the floor. She can go out and get a kill, she can make a dig, but can I make it better than that? Can I prepare her for the next club season? Can I prepare her for the next level of volleyball? That's my job."

Reach Michael Whitlow at mwhitlow@thenewsdispatch.com or (219) 214-4169. Follow him on Twitter @couldbelikemike.

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