WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Seniors carrying the court
The Daily News
When Ohio scored its final point against Ball State in the Mid-American Conference tournament last season, Jacqui Seidel thought about what could have been. Instead of being conference champions, Ball State was a first-round elimination.
“It’s not a good feeling at all,” Seidel said. “To work so hard to get to that point and suddenly have it all just taken away from you, it hurts.”
Now a senior setter, Seidel and four other seniors are looking to put 2012 behind them. With just a handful of juniors on the team, and just one actually holding junior eligibility, coach Steve Shondell will rely on his senior class for both playmaking and leadership this season.
Shondell is leading the team after a 2012 season where injuries were abundant and chemistry was scarce. Players had little continuity with each other because injuries made it difficult for the team to play long stretches with the same rotations.
A torn ACL sidelined Seidel during her sophomore year, and Shondell said it probably took more than a year for her to return to full strength.
Seidel said chemistry will be one of the strong suits this season due to the time the team has spent together during the offseason. Veterans practiced with the freshman class throughout the summer, she said, meaning crucial mental connections were formed before the season even begins.
Now with a roster full of healthy players, Shondell said he’s confident about the leaders on the team.
“All of these girls have played a lot of volleyball here at Ball State,” he said. “They’re great both in the classroom and on the court. Hopefully, they can take us a long way this year.”
Senior Kylee Baker is one player Shondell will look to for leadership. A three-year letter winner, Baker started the first 14 matches of her junior season before a ruptured disk ended her season.
With the new season, Baker said she understands she has another role to fulfill both on and off the court to better her team.
Baker, along with the rest of the senior class, will need to groom a very young volleyball team. Ball State has 10 underclassmen to go along with junior transfer Amanda Raker.
“We have to make them feel comfortable from the get-go, relaxed and welcomed in,” Baker said. “We’ll be setting the tone on this team, so we want them to feel like they can contribute right away.”
As the senior Cardinals take the reins, players will have to replace the offense provided by Kara Bates and Lisa Scott last season. The duo accounted for more than 700 of Ball State’s 1,561 kills last season before graduating.
Shondell said he expects senior Mindy Marx to step up, along with several others when it comes to leading the charge offensively this season.
“We’re going to have a very balanced offense this season, and we’re hoping Marx will evolve into a go-to player for us out in the middle,” he said. “She has to be the preseason favorite to lead our offense, but she’s also going to get a lot of help from her friends.”
Those friends will need to include senior Lauren Grant and Catie Fredrich.
Grant was second in kills by Ball State juniors last season, behind Marx, and could play a pivotal role in igniting Ball State’s offense this fall.
Fredrich was one of the few Ball State players who managed to stay healthy last season. Teammates saw her as a leader.
As all five of Ball State’s seniors enter their final year of eligibility, Shondell said he knows there’s something about this group of upperclassmen that’s different from some of the other groups he’s coached.
“They’re going to have a lot of younger players looking up to them, but they’ve been through three full seasons, and there have been a lot of wars they’ve competed in,” Shondell said. “They’ll share as much of their experiences as they can with the younger players to help them meet all of the challenges.”
The group of upperclassmen has seen success at meeting those challenges over the past few seasons. A conference championship was won, and an NCAA tournament bid was clinched.
With less than two weeks remaining before the first serve of the season, Seidel talked about what she wants out of her senior year.
“I want everything,” she said. “We know what to expect; we’re ready.”
2012: 14-16 (7-9), Loss in quarterfinals of MAC Tournament
2011: 25-8 (12-4), Loss in first round of NCAA Championship
2010: 24-5 (14-3), Loss in quarterfinals of MAC Tournament