It is something of a conundrum for Tiffany Clark.
The very traits that have helped her become an accomplished libero at the highest level of college volleyball are the same traits that sometimes impede her from playing to her full ability.
Ever since joining the University of Wisconsin volleyball program last year, Clark has been trying to find a way to contain her instinctive go-for-broke mentality without losing aggressiveness altogether.
It's an ongoing process, but one that is showing progress, as evidenced by her selection as Big Ten Conference defensive player of the week after recording 47 digs in two matches, including a career-high 26 in a loss against Illinois last Saturday.
"What has made me good and what has been my X-factor is my diving all over the place and just my working hard," said Clark, a 5-foot-11 junior. "You come here and it's just a totally different game. That doesn't fly here. Last year I didn't really like the way that I played, almost like panicky."
Recognizing that, Clark has been working with the UW coaches to find a way to harness her natural intensity and better retain her composure under stress.
"I found out I play a lot better when I'm under control, when I'm not flying all over the place, when I'm not frantic, not tense," Clark said. "So my mindset going into a match now isn't super hyped up. It's staying calm, staying loose.
"I listen to really soothing music before a game, which is contrary to what most people think athletes do. I take some quiet time, step away from the team and focus on myself, focus on slowing my heart rate down so I don't get so excited, so hyped up."
Still, it's hard to fight human nature, and Clark's play has been somewhat inconsistent through the first half of this season.
After a particularly rough match against Minnesota, coach Kelly Sheffield decided to switch up his lineup and give the libero jersey to junior M.E. Dodge, with Clark shifting to Dodge's defensive specialist role. Dodge played libero in a victory at Purdue and started there at Illinois, before the two switched back midway through the match.
Since then, Clark has been on a roll, recording 23 digs at Iowa, 21 against Northwestern and 26 in the rematch with Illinois, averaging 5.83 digs per set. Her passing numbers also were strong, Sheffield said.
"Tiffany responded exactly the way you'd want somebody to respond," Sheffield said. "She came back calmer. Her confidence was still high and she was making more plays, not because the want-to was more, but I thought she slowed things down a little bit.
"She's in better balance defensively, she's reading the game more rather than just being all over the place. I've loved the mentality that she's had. I thought it was her best weekend of the season. I'm really proud of the way she's responded and the way she's playing right now."
Even as they've competed for the same job, Clark said she and Dodge have maintained a supportive relationship.
"We're really good friends off the court and on," Clark said. "I was just talking about this with her because other teams I've been on, yeah, there's animosity between a libero and a DS because one wants to be the other and there's a lot of jealousy going on. But there's nothing but respect between us. I was really happy for her when she played (libero). Obviously, I wanted that position so I worked really hard to get it back."
Clark, Dodge and the rest of their teammates will have to be at their best tonight when the No. 9 Badgers (12-4, 5-3 Big Ten) host No. 5 Nebraska (15-3, 6-2).
This article is written by Dennis Punzel from The Wisconsin State Journal and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.