ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ERIC CLARK
For the past two years, Coach Amy Ratzlaff and the Tabor College women’s volleyball team have quietly climbed the KCAC ladder of success.
About two weeks ago the Bluejays were tabbed as the third best team in the KCAC by conference coaches.
The poll also indicated that Tabor had received one first-place vote. The vote, from a KCAC rival coach, has Ratzlaff excited about the poll and the upcoming season.
“We did get one first-place vote which was nice for respect,” Ratzlaff said. “My girls came in incredible shape and they are a group of very good athletes. If we can get ourselves mentally tough, I think we’ll be a tough team to beat.”
Tabor returns one of the KCAC’s premiere offensive threats in Tesha Werth. The Hillsboro High School product lead the conference in kills, digs and passing percentage last season. She was a unanimous first-team All-KCAC pick and Academic All-America last year.
According to Ratzlaff, Werth’s value to her team is immeasurable.
“She was No. 1 in three categories in the conference, which is incredible,” Ratzlaff said. “To pose those kind of stats is amazing, and she’s come back as strong as ever.
“When I go into coaches meetings for the conference, they ask me if every year if she’s done yet. She’s very well respected around the conference.”
Werth’s scoring shots are often set-up by sophomore setter, Sara Haggard, last season’s KCAC Freshman of the Year. To be receive that honor is unique, according to Ratzlaff.
“It takes a lot of work to get any kind of honors as a setter,” Ratzlaff said. “Her stats last year were almost identical to the girl from Bethel who was MVP her junior year. That says something for Sara. She is a big part of our returning squad.”
The Bluejays will also look to some of last year’s freshmen for strength and experience.
“Angela Kroeker and Laura Campbell are very strong,” Ratzlaff said. “I’d say they are coming in stronger than when they ended the season.
“Both have developed a lot. They’re coming in with experience and confidence and you can’t replace that.”
Melissa Seidl and Carmen Hein make up the core of Tabor’s defense, Ratzlaff said.
“Both are the base of our defensive attack,” Ratzlaff said. “They are very quick and solid aspects of our returning squad.”
Two other Hillsboro natives, Erin Loewen and Adri Friesen, will also contribute to the defensive side of the court, according to Ratzlaff.
“Erin is an incredible hitter,” Ratzlaff said. “But what I am so excited about is her defense. It’s incredible. She’s just an all-around good athlete. So I’m expecting good things from her.”
Ratzlaff said she was pleased that Friesen chose to transfer to Tabor from Friends University.
“We’re glad to have Adri back in town,” Ratzlaff said. “She’s coming in strong. Blocking is going to be one of the biggest parts of what she’ll bring to the team that we didn’t have last year.”
Saint Mary College stands a top the KCAC preseason poll with three first-place votes. The Spires, like Tabor, are young and aggressive, Ratzlaff said.
“I think they are going to be tough because they were so young last year and very competitive,” Ratzlaff said.
“They’ll have a little more experience. Out of the league, I think they will be very tough.”
Last season St. Mary was touted as one the conference’s best defensive teams and Tabor as one of the best offensive teams. When the two meet this season, Ratzlaff is optimistic about the outcome.
“When we play, we sort of hit heads,” Ratzlaff said. “That’s why when we play, it lasts forever. St. Mary prides itself on defense and we’re pretty good on offense. When we play I think we will be ready.”
The Bethel College Threshers, last year’s KCAC champs, will also be a team to contend with this season.
“As always. they will have a tough team,” Ratzlaff. “They will have their work cut out for them, but as always, they have the fundamentals down and can put out a good team.”
Despite their outstanding offensive stats last year, the Bluejays feel they will improve.
“Our passing percentage and our kill percentage was great last season,” Ratzlaff said. “I think our offense will be very tough. I think it will be a big step up from last year’s offense.”
Ratzlaff’s only concern about her team will be it’s defense.
“We are very offensive-based,” Ratzlaff said. “We want to make our defense better. We need to be able to block to keep the ball on our side. That will be the biggest thing that the girls are working on to change our game.”
With a solid foundation laid after a two-year building process, Ratzlaff is anxious for the season to start.
“For me, it’s just fun,” Ratzlaff said. “Now we can work on strategies instead of fundamentals. This is really the first year I haven’t had to completely revamp my program.
“What I enjoy about being at this point is that we’re at the point that we are outsmarting the opponent. That’s the part I like. I think we’re finally building a squad that’s a solid team.”
On Saturday, the Bluejays will host the alumni game and then will officially open their season on Wednesday, Sept. 5, at home against McPherson College. Matches begin at 5 p.m.