Versatility will be key to BU’s volleyball success

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After finishing fourth in the Heart of America Athletic Conference in 2012, the Baker University volleyball team made strides during the offseason.

The Wildcats are receiving votes in the NAIA preseason poll and are picked to finish second in conference play.

Freshman Hannah Bettge sets the ball during the alumni volleyball game Sunday in Collins Center. The Wildcats volleyball team is currently ranked second in a preseason poll for the Heart of America Athletic Conference.Tera Lyons

While the team lost two of its key players to graduation, Baker also has many offensive and defensive weapons returning.

Senior Crystal Simon is confident in the team’s ability and believes the Wildcats can find success through their depth this season.

“If someone is struggling one day, I have no doubt we will be able to put someone else in and still be able to do well,” Simon said. “The versatility, I think, is really what’s making us shine right now.”

Baker will look to Danielle French, the 2012 HAAC Freshman of the Year, to make an impact again this season. The 6-foot-1-inch middle hitter led the team in all blocking categories last season and had the third most kills for BU.

Senior Renata Dill will also anchor the Wildcats defense in the backcourt. The second-team all-conference libero led Baker with 575 digs in 2012.

Head coach Kathy Allen is confident in the team’s defense again this season, as she added more height to the roster.

“I think we should have a pretty strong block,”Allen said. “We have some size in the front row, and we have some good, quick backcourt defenders, so I foresee our defense to be pretty strong this year.”

While defense will likely be a large part of the Wildcats’ success in 2013, the team has a new look to its offense as well. Allen signed six new players, including Gardner Edgerton High School standout Hannah Bettge.

The freshman has already proven herself in practice and will get the call as the starting setter for the Wildcats.

“We’re going to be able to run a faster offense,” Allen said. “(Bettge) jump sets everything in front of the 10-foot line, and she’s definitely able to hold a block.”

The Wildcats’ other fresh faces include three transfer students from Johnson County Community College.

With these additions, the Wildcats are confident in their team and will work to prove their No. 2 ranking.

“I think we are going to work hard in order to get first, but we also know that there is a lot of competition out there and we can’t just expect to get second,” Simon said. “I feel like this year we have the potential to win conference, and I feel like we are going to do really well. I’m really excited to see how we do in conference play.”

Simon will have to wait a while to face a conference opponent, though, as Baker spends its first three weeks in tournament play.

The Wildcats open their season Friday in Sioux City, Iowa, for the Northwestern Tournament. Baker will be tested right away, as three of the four teams it faces during the two-day tournament are either receiving votes or are ranked in the preseason poll.

BU’s first game is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. against Dordt College. The Wildcats will then turn around to play Doane College at 6:30 p.m.