Andrew Mishler

Losing one of the best players in the nation at a key position can be a difficult transition for most collegiate teams.

But when comes to the Ball State women's volleyball team, losing former libero Alyssa Rio to graduation doesn't seem to be a worry.

Sophomore Catie Fredrich is expected to take the floor as the starting libero in Ball State's season opening weekend with home matches against Loyola on Friday at 7 p.m. and IPFW on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Fredrich only has one year of experience at Ball State under her belt, but she was more than ready to handle a bigger role this season.

She made at least one dig in all 29 of Ball State's matches last season and even posted a career-high 27 digs against IPFW on Sept. 14, besting Rio by one dig in the match.

The combination of Fredrich and senior Kaylee Schembra in the backcourt is a defensive unit coach Steve Shondell feels confident in, especially after watching them this preseason.

"They've both performed like I hoped they would," Shondell said. "Catie's going to go into the season in the libero position and I think she's going to do a great job. And I think [Schembra] is going to do a outstanding job playing the middle-back."

Fredrich is a lengthy libero at 5 feet 10 inches, while Schembra plays closer to the ground at 5 feet 4 inches. Shondell hopes to put both players in the best position to utilize their height and speed.

"Catie's got a lot of range because she's tall and long and she can pick up those setter dumps in the middle of the court," Shondell said. "She can cover a lot of that court close to the net because she's so long."

"[Schembra]'s so quick that she's got good range deep on the court when she's got a little more time to run balls down. That's worked out pretty much how I figured."

Even with Rio no longer playing with Ball State, she's still coaching and helping her former teammates as a student assistant with the team.

Her presence has been a boost for Ball State's morale and confidence.

"It's nice that she's still here and can give her perspective and helpful hints from a player who was just there," Shembra said.

Coming off a Mid-American Conference Regular Season Championship season in 2010, Ball State is convinced that it can go to greater heights this year.

Both Fredrich and Schembra are sure that Ball State's defense won't miss a beat in helping the team reach its goals.

"I expect us to be MAC champs again," Fredrich said. "We want to be a top-25 team and make it to the NCAA Tournament."

Shondell said he knows that both players are ready to lead Ball State's backcourt.

"They've both come back better players than they were a year ago," he said. "I think we're going to be fine in the defensive specialist area."