As Valpo's libero nears record, her thoughts are with military husband

College athletes have to deal with all kinds of distractions.

Long road trips, nagging injuries and academic responsibilities are just a few of the things that severely test an athlete's ability to focus.

But for Brittany Malicoat, a senior libero on the Valparaiso University volleyball team, those are the least of her concerns. While she concentrates on playing volleyball and pursues a double major in art history and public relations, her husband is stationed in Iraq with the United States Marine Corps.

"Worrying all the time is not going to make me play better," Brittany said. "I just need to focus on where I'm at and make the best of it."

Deployed just over a month ago for his second overseas tour, Sgt. Bobby Malicoat is a shop leader in an ordnance unit. In other words, his specialty is the maintenance and disposal of weapons and munitions. Or as Brittany said, he makes bombs.

Fortunately for the young couple, the lines of communication are vastly better than when he was stationed on a ship in the Mediterranean in 2007.
"We usually talk once a day," Brittany said. "We use a webcam, so when he's getting a good connection, we can actually see each other. When he was deployed in the Mediterranean, it was horrible because the Internet went in and out all the time. The phones and the reception were bad, so sometimes I'd go a month without talking to him. This has been great so far."

The high school sweethearts from Elkhart, Ind., originally planned to get married after Brittany graduated from Valparaiso and Bobby completed his military obligation. But they decided to move the date up when they found out Bobby would be deployed in January 2007.

"We had to move the date up," Brittany said. "I wasn't going to live with him in North Carolina before we were married. The only way we could do it was to get married on my Christmas break. We knew we were going to get married. It was just a matter of when. We just decided to go for it."

Obviously, the decision to get married just after her sophomore season did not have a negative impact on her athletic career. Last year as a junior, she set a school record with 740 digs and was named Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year.

"If any other person had come to me and said she was thinking about getting married as a sophomore, I would not have been too sure about that," head coach Carin Avery said. "But Brittany has always been a very mature person and if anyone was ready for that, it was her."

One of the benefits of being married to a Marine is physical training. Bobby's home base is Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina, and he often took Brittany on the base's running courses. They also played volleyball on the beaches of Pamlico Sound and the Outer Banks.

"He always pushes me to do my best in everything I do. He's my inspiration to push through and achieve things I didn't think were possible."

-- Brittany Malicoat, on her husband, Sgt. Bobby Malicoat

"We got to spend the entire summer together," Brittany said. "He was stationed right on the coast in North Carolina, so we played sand volleyball on the beach and he helped me train. He took me on their running courses and tried to get me to do pull-ups. He always pushes me to do my best in everything I do. He's my inspiration to push through and achieve things I didn't think were possible."

That training appears to have paid off because Malicoat and the Crusaders have played inspired volleyball during the first two weeks of the season, posting a 5-1 record and winning the Shamrock Invitational at Notre Dame's Joyce Center.

"It was amazing," Brittany said. "I grew up watching Notre Dame play. My parents would take me to matches all the time. It's kind of like my home court. It was my dream to beat Notre Dame."

This past weekend, the Crusaders posted a 2-1 record at the University of Indiana adidas Classic, bouncing back from a loss to the Hoosiers with victories over Louisville and Wake Forest.

Brittany did her part by leading the team in digs and was named to both all-tournament teams. Now she is only 96 digs from breaking the Valparaiso record, and thanks to the Crusaders' one standing order, that moment is not far off.

"We have a rule and we talk about it every spring and every fall -- get out of her way," Avery said. "If she calls a ball, it's hers. It doesn't matter if it's on the other side of the court or right at her. If Brittany calls it, you get out of the way.

"She's very fast and athletic, but she reads so well and she knows what's going to happen before the hitter does. That's what you want in your libero."

Like most athletes, Brittany circles important dates on her schedule. One was Aug. 31 when the Crusaders played at Notre Dame. Another is Nov. 20-23 when Valparaiso travels to Cleveland for the Horizon League Championships.

But the most important date is Feb. 9. That is when Bobby is scheduled to return stateside after completing his tour in Iraq. Since there is nothing she can do to make that date arrive sooner, she will focus on her goal of winning the conference title and earning the automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.

"It's my senior year," Brittany said. "I want to go out with a big bang."

Dave Reed covers college sports for ESPN.com.