Wildcat volleyball squad young, but experienced
After four straight seasons of 25 or more wins, the Baker volleyball team crumbled to a 13-24 record in 2003.
Now the 2004 Wildcats will attempt to prove last season was just the result of growing pains for a large and talented freshman class. The 2003 roster featured eight freshmen and just two upperclassmen on a roster of 17. This year's 18-woman roster will have five freshmen, several sophomores with varsity experience and six upperclassmen.
"We're still really young, but we have a lot of game experience," head coach Kathy Allen said.
Not to mention talent. Baker graduated All-American libero Elaine Meyer, but returning are four All-Heart of America Athletic Conference athletes in senior Brooke Glenn of Topeka, junior Emily Allred of Salina, sophomore Barb Ludwig of Kansas City, Kan., and sophomore Vanessa Wardy of Tonganoxie. Glenn plays right side hitter, six-footers Allred and Wardy are middle hitters, and Ludwig plays outside hitter, giving the Wildcats a stellar front line that has been in battle together before.
"Experience is everything in volleyball," Allen said.
Junior Sarah Douglass of Overland Park agreed.
"It's a huge adjustment because everything is faster and everyone is stronger," Douglass said.
However, Douglass said she thought the sophomores did as well as could be expected as freshmen.
"Our freshmen played well, which is a reflection of the talent they had," she said.
Allred saw some sophomores, including Ludwig and Wardy, play at a tournament this summer and said they looked impressive. Allen said that was the result of hard work.
"The sophomores have added muscle and jumping ability," Allen said. "We had an excellent spring training."
Newcomer Jenifer Koelzer of Kansas City, Kan., is expected to step into the setter role. She transferred from Washburn University and still has four years of eligibility.
"She's like another Emilee Hoffner, but taller," said Allen, referring to Baker's All-American setter in 2001.
Sophomore Jana Smith of Topeka can play a variety of positions for the varsity team. Douglass and sophomore Leslie Kersting of Topeka will be defensive specialists.
Allen said she believed she has another good recruiting class, including Haydon Hubbel of Baldwin City. But it won't be easy for them on a team with experience at every position.
"The freshmen have to beat someone, and the returners aren't looking to get beat out," Allen said.
"All the girls coming in look really good, but there's a lot of talent already here," she said.
The Wildcats will have to be consistent to get wins in a balanced conference. Allen said the Heart of America was getting tougher each year, and she said she expected nine teams would fight for first place this year in the 11-team conference.
Helping Allen will be Darryl Hendrix of Topeka, a seasoned coach at the junior level.
"We're lucky to get him," Allen said.