‘New’ Jays’ volleyball team blessed with potential

With 12 new players on a roster of 20, Tabor volleyball’s Amy Ratzlaff describes her coaching challenge as “a real fruitbasket-upset.”

But you won’t find anyone less upset to be in the middle of it.

Those 12 new players are so talented that most of Ratzlaff’s eight returners are going to be hard-pressed to find much playing time this fall.

“We have potential coming out of every crack in the floor,” said Ratzlaff, who is beginning her second year as head coach. “All the skills are there, all the desire is there, and the heart is there. It’s just going to be a matter of time, mostly.”

Ratzlaff was named head coach late last summer and, without time to recruit, had to play the hand that was dealt her. That hand was good enough by the end of the season to challenge the top teams in the KCAC and finish fifth in the standings.

But Ratzlaff wasn’t satisfied simply to fill the holes created by graduating seniors.

“I wanted to step in and redo the program a little bit,” she said.

Specifically, she wanted a full squad of 18 athletes so she could establish a junior varsity program.

But that wasn’t all she wanted.

“Quantity is not quality, and I needed both,” she said. “As I started recruiting, I felt I needed to get a large number of girls in with good skills just to bring up our competitive base.”

Believing that charity begins at home, Ratzlaff focused first on Hillsboro High School alums. She signed Angela Kroeker and Sara Janzen, two all-league performers from last year’s high school team, coaxed Tesha Ratzlaff Werth back into athletics after a year’s hiatus, and welcomed Carmen Hein and Kara Chisholm as sophomore transfers from Friends.

They joined former teammate Audrey Loewen, a 6-1 middle hitter who played last year for Tabor.

Ratzlaff said Kroeker and Ratzlaff will be tough on-hand players.

“They both have incredible verticles and good court sense,” she said, “and they are both fiercely competitive. That really helps.”

But that still left the Tabor coach with some key holes to fill, beginning with a huge void at setter created by Amy Wertenberger’s graduation.

“I had no setter to step in and take the position, which is probably the scariest position to be in as a coach because your setter really determines the pace of your team,” she said.

“It means not only finding the right skills, but the right personality, someone who could step in and be a leader even though she wasn’t part of the program before.”

Ratzlaff believes she found that person in Sara Haggard, a 5-7 freshman from Fort Collins, Colo.

“She has an enormous amount of court experience,” Ratzlaff said. “She played club ball all over the United States during the off season, which is very competitive. She brings a lot of skill, but a lot of court sense, too.

“To top it all off, she fits in very well,” she added. “The girls like her and respond well to her.”

Ratzlaff then found a middle hitter to replace Jenea Falen Heinrichs.

“Filling the middle is another scary position because you need to find a big girl with talent,” she said.

She feels she did that by signing Laura Campbell, a six-footer out of Wichita who also received a presidential scholarship for her academic prowess.

“She has a lot of good skills and is a very committed young lady who fits in perfectly with us,” Ratzlaff said.

She is also high on several other freshman, including Janzen, a 5-8 on-hand player, Rachelle Regier, a 5-10 middle hitter from Madrid, Neb., Hilary Driffel, a 6-0 setter and middle hitter from Burbank, Calif., and Laura Campbell, a 6-0 middle hitter from Wichita.

Even though her returners may see less playing time this season, Ratzlaff credits them with her recruiting success.

“My biggest recruiting tool was the personnel I had returning,” she said. “I think it was my returners who convinced the new people to attend. That’s a good feeling because it makes for a smoother transition going into a rebuilding year.”

Ratzlaff believes she has talent to win, but doesn’t know how quickly her team will come together.

“It’s hard to make a guess where our inexperience will meet up with our ability to play on the court,” she said. “As competitive as my girls are, they’re going to step it up right away if they see they’re not at the point they need to be.

“I really think they’re going to be fiercely competitive with everybody that we see.”

She gives the KCAC nod to Bethel, the defending champion with seven returning seniors, but she’s not counting out her own squad.

“Even if we match their talent, we don’t match their experience,” she said. “So it will take a little more from us to battle them. The desire is there, though, and I really think the talent is there.”


1. Bethel College

      2.      Bethany College

      3.      Sterling College

      4.      Kansas Wesleyan Univ.

      5.      Ottawa University

      6.      Tabor College

      7.      Friends University

      8.      Saint Mary College

      9.      Southwestern College

      10.      McPherson College

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