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The words used to describe Indiana high school standout volleyball sisters Melani
and Mabrey Shaffmaster
Melani, the MaxPreps 2016 National Volleyball Freshman of the Year, has been called "carefree, special and strategic." She's even been called "mellow." Some say she "never gets rattled."
Mabrey, a year younger, has been described as "full throttle, explosive, competitive and aggressive."
In a word, Mabrey is "fire" and Melani is "ice."
The combination has led their New Castle (Ind.)
volleyball coach Matt Curts to call them "M Squared."
This year, Melani can add MaxPreps National Sophomore Volleyball Player of the Year to her rapidly growing list of accolades. She also is the only sophomore named to MaxPreps 2017 All-American At-Large team.
Mabrey matches her big sisters' frosh honor as she is the MaxPreps 2017 National Freshman Volleyball Player of the Year.
It's the first time sisters have earned national Player of the Year honors in the same season since 2012, when twins Amber and Kadie Rolfzen were named co-National Players of the Year for their standout senior season at Papillion South High School (Papillion, Neb.). The Rolfzens went on to star for four seasons at Nebraska and are playing professionally in Europe.
But this is believed to be the first time that siblings have been named Player of the Year in difference classes in the same year.
"M Squared" were also named first Team All-State; All-District All-Conference and All-Area players for 2017.
The New Castle standouts led the Trojans to the state 3A title and a 34-6 season. Behind the 6-3 Melani and 6-1 Mabrey, New Castle won its final dozen matches.
"They may be sisters, however, they are distinctly different as players and individuals.," said Curts. "Melani is a very calm, cool, and level-headed individual that is the glue to our program. Melani leads by example and is very driven, yet focused. Melani has been asked to wear many "hats" on our team — setter, attacker, and even blocker. She unselfishly, does all of these very well."
Curts said he could see Melani playing in the Olympics.
"Mabrey is a 'full-throttle' type of player that I just love," said Curts. "She is the type of player that puts a lot of personal pressure on herself to perform at a high level. I selected Mabrey as my OH 1 (outside hitter 1); which meant that Mabrey was being asked to play a very important role offensively. Mabrey became our ‘go-to' person offensively and really delivered in our big games."
Melani hunts and has a six-point buck to her credit. Mabrey does not hunt, preferring rather to read anatomy books.
Their reasons for playing are different, too.
Melani says the best part of volleyball is "traveling and meeting new people." She hopes that travel one day includes an Olympic opportunity after college.
Mabrey says it's the competition ... the better the competition, the better she likes the game. She has no plans to play beyond college.
While they are very different, there are some similarities, namely their desire to win.
"They do not like losing," said mother Wendi. "And they are very competitive with one another. I don't know of anything they don't compete at. When they were younger, they'd compete to see who zipped their coat up first."
There were also other everyday competitions like alphabet games, getting to the elevator first to push the button ... "they literally make everything a race," said Wendi.
That competition is as true today as ever. Mabrey is quick to note that her overall GPA is 4.05 and Melani's is 4.03.
"I know every stat after every game," said Mabrey. "I want to know all the stats. ... I always compete against my sister. It's always been that way. I was most of the time in the shadow of Melani."
Statistically, Melani gets the edge in kills (456 with a 3.9 per set average), digs (219), blocks (101) and assists (952 for an 8.2 per set average). Mabrey isn't far behind in kills (445 for a 3.8 per set average), and leads in service aces (99-60) and percentage of service aces (22.5-18).
For a setter to record 456 kills and 952 assists is very impressive. For a freshman to be the go-to-hitter and average nearly four kills per set is very impressive.
"They compete," said Curts. "They hate to lose."
Wendi noted their goals are high with Melani planning on being a cardiologist. Mabrey plans on becoming an orthopedic surgeon.
But besides the sibling desire to compete, what makes the Shaffmaster sisters so good?
"They've been playing for a long time," said their mom. "Their older sisters played and when they played, it didn't matter the ages of the younger sisters, they were toted in and out of gyms. They've been playing competitive volleyball for a long time and don't know anything different."
Add to that, both Wendi and dad, Patrick, were athletes. They get their size from their 6-8 father.
"But mostly, they love the game. They saw early success," said Wendi, who pointed out that the sisters played T-Ball softball, YMCA basketball. "They got into sports early and started with training volleyball at age 6."
They also point to their involvement in Munciana, one of the top club volleyball programs in the country.
Melani's Munciana team has won three national titles and Mabrey has been an All-American twice.
Mabrey says her sister is good because "she doesn't ever not work hard. We'll have a two-hour practice and she will stay after. She always works on things she's done wrong. She never stops working hard. She is very determined."
Mabrey says she is a good volleyball player because she sees it as a one-on-one challenge.
"I know it is a team sport, but I like the feeling of when I hit the ball. It's what I want to do," said Mabrey.
Melani said that's when Mabrey's aggressive shows the most.
But regardless who pushed the elevator button first or who had the most kills, their competitiveness never created any family issues. It's helped them on the court as first-time teammates.
"They learned a lot this year, being first-time teammates, about how to push each other mentally and physically and make each other better," said Wendi. "I feel like their competitive nature as athlete and teammates doesn't divide them but brings them together and creates an unstoppable force."
With a taste of one state title, New Castle's "Fire" and "Ice" think they can win two more.
"We have good coaching, good returning players and some good freshman coming in," said Mabrey. "And we want to win it again."
With "M-Squared" on the court, the Trojans are positioning themselves for more than just a three peat – national prominence is within reach. In their final 12 matches, they won 40 of 47 sets. In their six losses, two were against Top 25 ranked teams – No. 3 Assumption (Louisville, Ken.) and Indiana 4A champion Avon, ranked No. 22. The combined record of the teams that beat them was 169-28.
Though they lose three seniors to graduation, Mabrey was one of three freshmen regulars. New Castle returns six players who played 112 or more sets. The key components are the Shaffmasters.
It's worth repeating. They don't like to lose, regardless the competition.
At the state tournament, New Castle won 12 of 14 matches and swept the title, 3-0. The sisters were at their best as Melanie had 51 kills, 126 assists and 15 blocks and Mabrey had 59 kills, including 19 in the finale.
No matter how you describe the Shaffmaster sisters, their drive to succeed and their competitiveness are key components that make up "M-Squared." And that's big trouble for opponents as New Castle's players of the year eye a three-peat.