There seems to be an extra ultra-competitive layer among the top teams in DII women’s volleyball. It’s evident when you see there has been four No. 1 teams in the first five AVCA Coaches’ Polls thus far in the 2021 season, a trend that has been similar the past few seasons. These student-athletes leave it all on the floor, driven by a fierce instinct to win at all costs.
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But what happens when that competitive gene is on the same team? They say your team is your family, and for Nebraska-Kearney and Western Washington — that is exactly what it is.
Coach Squiers keeps it in the family at UNK
Rick Squiers entered the 2021 season as the second winningest coach in DII women’s volleyball history behind a remarkable 882-149 record. His Lopers also entered the season coming off a national runner-up finish in 2019 with a team that finished 38-1.
His daughters Anna and Maddie earned All-American honors on that team.
“Growing up around Lopers’ volleyball and seeing the success and what [their father, Rick Squiers] has done here made Maddie and I want to be a part of it,” Anna said. “It’s super special.”
It’s nothing new for the Lopers’ head coach. His daughter Jordan played volleyball under him as well, another daughter Rebecca played basketball for Rockhurst, and his son David played football in Kearney.
There's all you need for a DII starting five in the Squiers' household.
“It was pretty competitive all the time,” Maddie Squiers said of growing up part of the Squiers' clan. “Growing up and getting to go to all the UNK volleyball games and being surrounded by all the athletics was a lot of fun.”
The competitive edge has never gone away. As Anna puts it, they sometimes butt heads.
“They both have different personality types,” Coach Squiers added with a chuckle. “Maddie is a little more outwardly competitive, but I know that Anna is inwardly very competitive. I’ve taken a page from their high school coaches to not pit them against each other. I’ve heard going back to basketball practices they weren’t allowed to guard each other. So, most of the time they are on the same side of the net.”
The Lopers had big plans in 2020. One year after falling one game short of that elusive national championship, the team was back and poised for another run.
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And then COVID happened. While the championship season was taken from fall student-athletes, they were afforded an extra year of eligibility allowing for one more go in the family business.
“I was all in from the beginning, but Anna wasn’t sure if she was going to come back,” Maddie explained. “I was hoping she would but understood if she couldn’t. We’re just super grateful we get the extra year, whether we make it far or not, I’m just trying to enjoy my time playing volleyball.”
“As it’s gotten towards the end, it’s something I have to remind myself to really appreciate,” Coach Squiers added. “Especially this year. After what we went through with COVID, not really knowing if they would come back and play again, there was a part of me that prepared myself for that to be the end. To have this bonus year is not lost on me.”
It’s been a long run for the trio. Even while Rick coached the Lopers, he was always present at Anna and Maddie’s club seasons in high school. Separating father from coach, now that was no easy task.
“There’s the coach part of you that has to remember they are just another player, and you have problems to solve and challenges ahead. Sometimes after a game when things have gone well and I’m perusing through the stat sheet, I’ll take note and say, ‘hey, these two are pretty good.’”
Anna and Maddie have a bond that has taken decades to form. “We have played together for as long as I can remember,” Maddie said. “We definitely have a different type of chemistry. She always knows what type of ball to get me and our teammates.”
But that bond has a trickle-down effect on the whole team, and that helps them perform as one of the best squads in the nation. Which leads us to the wonder twins in Bellingham, Washington.
Twin telepathy is a real thing in Western Washington
Like the Squiers sisters, twins Chloe Roetcisoender (formerly Biscup prior to her 2018 marriage) and Tess Biscup have been to the DII women’s volleyball summit. The two played sparingly as freshmen for the 2018 national runners-up team that fell just short in Tampa, Florida. Now, the duo has played in every 2021 match for Western Washington, a program that once again finds itself in the top 25 in DII women’s volleyball.
But it almost wasn’t a package deal. Tess wasn’t even sure she wanted to play college sports. Luckily for the Vikings, she took the trip to campus to see Chloe at a volleyball camp.
“My sister came with my parents and met all the girls and saw the culture of the program,” Chloe said. “That day she told me, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to be a Western volleyball player.’”
"After going to watch my sister at Elite Camp at Western, I fell in love with the culture of WWU volleyball and knew I wanted to somehow become a part of it. Diane [Flick-Williams, head coach] and James [Suh, assistant coach] offered me the incredible opportunity to do so and to continue my journey with my sister, an act that I will forever be grateful for."
Now they share a similar bond on the court that has taken them to new heights. While part of it is their cutthroat nature driven by competing against each other since they were three, part may come from a secret means of communication only twins can understand.
“Our coach always jokes about that,” Chloe said. “We always know what the other is thinking. If she’s in a certain headspace, I know how to talk to her and communicate probably better than anyone else. Twin telepathy is definitely a real thing.”
"As cliché as this may sound," Tess added, "there is definitely a “super-secret” mind communication. I know, without any verbal communication, what my sister is thinking and how she is feeling."
While Chloe and Tess are grateful to be playing together, they aren’t the only sisters the two have on the team.
“We are lucky because [the Vikings] make family a priority,” Roetcisoender said. “We always say, treat the sisters on your team the same way you would treat your own sister and I think we implement that. We're hard on each other, we hold each other accountable — but we love each other. Having real sisters on the team helps see what that relationship should look like.”
The bittersweet end to DII women’s volleyball is always on their mind
While COVID granted the two families extra time with each other in what has become their natural habitat, it has prolonged the inevitable: The end of their athletic careers together.
From toddlers to the final dig, these family connections have known nothing but the competitive spirit brewed by sibling rivalry.
“After I’m done with college athletics, I mean, this is the last time we’ll ever play a sport together,” Roetcisoender said. “We’ve been on the same teams since we were toddlers. I’m not letting myself think about it yet. It will be an emotional time for both of us.”
"I am very aware that playing a college sport — and getting to play it with your sister and best friend — is not an opportunity that many get," Biscup said. "Getting to see each other grow as athletes and as individuals has been incredible. Although it is going to be extremely difficult when we do have to say goodbye to athletics, I know that we will always have each other and will always push each other to be the best that we can possible be."
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“I almost didn’t come back,” Anna Squiers said. “It’s hard for me to imagine what my life would be like if I decided to step away from volleyball, so I’m thankful that I’m here. I just try to play each day like it could be my last.”
“I try not to let myself think about the last moment of this because I’ll be a wreck,” Rick Squiers said. “I try to stay day-by-day and hope good things happen and enjoy it while it’s here. You get to my age and those aren’t things you like to think about — at least when people are looking at you.”
But don’t you worry, DII sports fans. Another Squiers’ daughter is currently on the volleyball court in high school. There’s another chapter in this story just waiting to be written.