Volleyball team ranked 30th in preseason poll

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Volleyball team ranked 30th in preseason poll

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The Baker University volleyball team may have lost several key players from last year’s Heart of America Athletic Conference championship squad, but the Wildcats show no intentions of slowing down.

The team graduated eight seniors, including two first team all-conference players, one second team player and one honorable mention. However, the Wildcats are already in national spotlight after receiving votes in the Tachikara-NAIA Volleyball Coaches’ Preseason Top 25 poll.

The ‘Cats are ranked No. 30 nationally, which will serve as a test for the teams 10 newcomers.

Senior Savannah Smith said the new players will play an immediate part in the team’s success this season.

“We had a bunch of high-caliber athletes leave our team,” Smith said. “So they are going to have to fill those shoes, and they have big shoes to fill. As freshmen, they are going to feel the heat sometimes, but I think they can do it.”

Five freshmen joined the team, including Danielle French and Shannon Bond, who will take over as middle hitters for departing seniors Christina Delladio and Sydney Pemberton. Sam Landgrebe will also hold down the back row in place of graduating libero Brooke Allen.

Head coach Kathy Allen said she is already “pleasantly surprised” at how the team is practicing, but the ‘Cats still have areas that need improvement.

“We are still going to struggle in some areas that maybe we had down pat last year, particularly serve receive,” Allen said. “We are also a little bit smaller, we are not as tall at the net, but defense has always been our strongest point, so I think we are going to be pretty strong defensively.”

Smith and Jana Boss, two-time HAAC setter of the year, are the lone seniors returning to the team, but Allen hopes the pair will lead the team to another conference championship.

“Jana and Savannah are both very good defensive players,” Allen said. “They are both very confident and I think that they will be excellent leaders.”

Junior Jasmyn Turner and sophomore Taryn Brees will also return to the front row after helping lead the team to a perfect 9-0 conference record in 2011.

Boss said the season will serve as “a building year” for the team, but it has already seen improvements in the opening weeks of practice.

“I think we have actually been bonding really well,” Boss said. “We just have some communication stuff to work on, timing and just getting to know everyone’s different styles of play.”

The ‘Cats will be tested throughout their schedule as they open with tournaments in Sioux City, Iowa, and Bellevue, Neb., against nationally-ranked competition.

The team will need to break into the top 25 to help make its goal of competing in the national tournament come alive.

“It always seems like we come so close every year,” Smith said. “This year we’re really working hard, really taking every practice to learn more and more and finally achieve that last step.”

The opening match starts at 2:30 p.m. today in Sioux City, Iowa against Grace College, with a nightcap against Morningside College at 8:30 p.m.