If you're a college coach looking to start a volleyball program, you need a sparkplug player who will bring instant energy and provide leadership.
Matthew Rogers is that type of person.
A libero for the Volleyball Cats, Rogers is a smart, compassionate team player who delivers energy and leadership every day.
That makes Rogers the perfect fit for Milliken University. A Division III liberal arts school in Decatur, Illinois, Milliken is adding a volleyball program for the 2019-20 academic year. The Big Blue will hit the court in the spring of 2020.
Combined with the home feel of the school and its academic excellence, the allure of entering a tight-knit program on the ground floor appealed to Rogers.
"I started looking at colleges last October. I had never heard of Milliken until their coach reached out to me in late December, right after Christmas. I ended up taking a trip up to Milliken in the middle of January. As soon as I was there, I enjoyed everything," Rogers said. "The day I went, I was with six other players who were looking to go there. I got to meet them and ended up spending the night in a room with all six of the guys. It created a bond between us, and I still talk to them, which is cool. It made me feel like I was at home."
Rogers has found a home in Saint Ignatius volleyball team over the last three years in the same way.
Rogers joined the program as a sophomore, never having played. But thanks to the efforts of the coaching staff, Rogers found his footing on the court.
"I enjoy having a team with good chemistry. You can have a team with all-stars, but if they don't have good team chemistry, they won't be a good team. At Saint Ignatius, we have really good team chemistry," Rogers said. "I wanted to continue that and go somewhere where I would bond with the coaches and players. I feel that at Milliken, that would be a good place where I would bond with the players and coaches."
Rogers started off at the JV level for the Wildcats before advancing to the varsity level in 2018.
As a sophomore, Rogers witnessed the Wildcats' journey to the program's first state championship. As a junior, Rogers helped the Wildcats reach the elite eight in Columbus as a libero with the varsity squad.
Entering his second season as head coach, Jacob Layden loves having Rogers on the team.
"Last season, Matt was a contributor on varsity in a spot role. We could always rely on him to come in to bring some energy and make plays," Layden said. "He's as high energy as it gets on a volleyball court."
Rogers' high energy is valued on the court. Layden will be looking for his senior libero to play a key role for the Volleyball Cats in 2019.
"He'll be our sparkplug. He makes plays with his energy that many kids can't make," Layden said. "He's also worked hard in the offseason. He played in a couple beach volleyball leagues and worked hard out of season to work on his passing and defensive game. He'll be competing for a starting libero spot."
Volleyball certainly played a significant role in Rogers' decision, but academics were just as important.
Milliken is a small liberal arts school of 2,000 students, but academically, it has noteworthy programs. And while Milliken does not have a program in engineering, Rogers' future field, the school does offer an amazing opportunity. Rogers will major in physics for three years at Milliken before transferring to Washington University in St. Louis. At the prestigious St. Louis university, Milliken will study engineering.
"In five years, I'll graduate with a bachelor's degree from Milliken and a master's degree from Washington in physics. That was a big factor in my decision."
The chance to earn a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in five years is an excellent opportunity. To earn both degrees, students often have to spend 6-7 years in school.
In addition, outside of academics and athletics, Milliken's setting offers its advantages.
"The town is another factor. It's a nice college town," Rogers said. "Everyone in the town follows the sports -- they have their own sports radio for college sports. I feel that when you're there playing a sport, everyone will know who you are. That's something that helped me decide to go there."
If Rogers keeps up the hard work, he is sure to succeed at Milliken. The school is the perfect fit for Rogers and will offer him wonderful opportunities.
Before Rogers pursues his dreams, he wants to finish his senior year out well in the classroom and on the volleyball court. Coach Layden will certainly enjoy having him for one more season.
"As a person, Matt is a caring and compassionate kid. You have some kids who are really focused on how to make themselves better. Matt is a team guy," Layden said. "He's in open gym helping the younger kids, helping to make the program better. He always makes sure the nets are set up at beginning of practice. He finds ways to help new kids. It takes a special kind of person to look outside themselves and see who's out of place and not comfortable, and to help them feel comfortable."
Rogers has certainly enjoyed his time with the Volleyball Cats.
One of the lessons Rogers will take with him is the importance of teamwork.
"Teamwork is a huge factor. Every position matters," Rogers said. "If one person is not doing well, I need to talk to them, help clear their mind. If one person makes a mistake, it could affect everyone else. Say I mess up on passing the ball, we can't run an offense. I have to be able to help start the offense. If I make a mistake and I'm not able to do that, I need to talk with the team and use our team chemistry to get past those failures."
Before embarking on his senior season and his college career, Rogers has a few people to thank.
"I'd like to thank Coach Casey Marcelo. He was the varsity coach during my sophomore year. He taught me how to play. I came in during sophomore year never having played before," Rogers explained. "A huge thanks to him, because he shaped me into the player I am. Coach Anne Kent and Coach Jacob Layden both have invested a lot of time into the team. And obviously, I'd like to thank my mom for helping me with everything."