New faces key for TC volleyball

These seniors and All-KCAC returners will anchor Tabor?s volleyball team this season: (from left) Tonisha Dean, Katelin Horstick, Ashley Jojola, Melissa Bush, Tena Loewen. Janae Rempel / Free Press

Expect to see some new faces on the court for the Tabor College volleyball team this season.

?We?re going to see a lot of contribution from a lot of new players this year,? head coach Amy Ratzlaff said. ?People who come watch us play are going to see new faces that are in very important positions.?

As it was last year, Ratz?laff?s squad in her 17th season is young in experience and small in number with 16 athletes on the roster.

?I like having smaller squads to really try to develop the girls and try to get everyone on the court to be the highest level that they can be,? Ratzlaff said. ?That way everyone feels like they?re getting a shot to try to build to be varsity.?

Returning players

Ratzlaff does return four starters who will provide a solid foundation upon which to build.

The Bluejays will lean heavily on returning All-KCAC first-team selections Katelin Horstick and Tena Loewen. Both were named to the 2015 preseason team.

Horstick, a senior middle blocker, led the Bluejays in blocks a year ago with 93 (0.9 per game). She had 22 solo blocks last year. Offensively, Horstick tallied 239 kills (2.3 per game) and had a hitting percentage of .240.

Tabor?s second returning first-team selection, junior outside hitter Tena Loewen, returns as the Bluejays? leader in ace serves (48) and kills (389). She ranked 25th in NAIA Division I in kills per game (3.64) and 35th in service aces per game (0.45). She hit .161 a year ago.

Ratzlaff said both Loe?wen and Horstick are ?playing better than ever.?

Two additional starters return: sophomores Sydney Peitz (outside hitter) and Brooke Holloway (outside hitter and opposite). Peitz hit .137 last season and recorded 168 kills. Holloway hit .109 and had 99 kills.

Junior Miranda Leibold returns as a middle blocker after undergoing back surgery in December.

?This is the first season I have seen her healthy, and she?s playing like she?s healthy,? Ratzlaff said. ?She?s a great athlete, amazing attitude, and I see her growing and growing every single game.?

Seniors Ashley Jojola (opposite) and Melissa Bush (outside hitter) also return.

Newcomers

Many holes are yet to be filled this season. First on Ratzlaff?s list is setter. Return?ing sophomore Megan Voth, who played in 107 sets last season, is benched as the result of a knee injury last spring.

?We were really kind of planning on her in a 5-1 (offense), which is your only setter, then, in your system,? Ratzlaff said. ?So we?re kind of sorting it out.?

Four setters are in the running for that position.

?It?s hard to have one of your best athletes sitting,? she said. ?But the girls that are performing are doing a great job, and I have confidence in them.?

Junior Amy Horner is a transfer from New Mexico State University who also brings an offensive attacking skill set.

?She?s a great player,? Ratzlaff said. ?She can set, although she provides a lot of leadership in a lot of other areas.?

Three freshmen complete Ratzlaff?s arsenal of potential setters: Keeley Kroeker from Lincoln (Neb.) South?west, Katie Franken?bery from Circle, and Kris?tina Bird from Central Union (Calif.). All have experience, she said.

Key will be the ability of such young players to gain leadership in a short window of time.

?I have a feeling our team is going to grow tremendously as the season progresses because I think our setters will grow tremendously,? Ratzlaff said. ?They are learning absolutely as fast as I?ve seen girls learn. They have assimilated everything as I?ve given it to them, but there?s a lot to learn.?

Tabor basketball fans will recognize a familiar face in senior outside hitter and middle blocker Tonisha Dean, who is new to the volleyball court this season.

?She?s an incredible athlete (with) limitless opportunities to grow,? Ratzlaff said. ?She just hasn?t played volleyball for awhile. She?ll have a different style, and that?s going to be a good thing.?

Kim Hockley is a junior transfer from Barton County. Standing 6-feet, 4-inches tall, Hockley brings size as a middle blocker/opposite.

?She?ll come along really quickly,? Ratzlaff said. ?She?s a lefty. That makes a huge difference, and she?s a true 6-4, so that makes a big difference. We?re excited about that.?

Two freshmen, in addition to the three freshman setters, complete the list of newcomers. Mikayla Peter?son (defensive specialist and outside hitter) from Nemaha Central and Ashley Lopez (defensive specialist) from Andover will fill some defensive gaps?Tabor lost second-team defensive specialist Whitney Maple?for the Bluejays.

?Where they?re starting out as freshmen is very high,? Ratzlaff said. ?Again, they have some things to learn, but I?m very pleased with how they?re performing.?

Outlook

Tabor was picked to finish fifth in the preseason coaches? poll behind Kansas Wesleyan, Ottawa, KCAC newcomer Oklahoma Wesleyan and Friends.

?I think fifth is fair,? Ratz?laff said. ?It shows that people respect us. We?re right there with all the top teams in points.?

As the game becomes faster and more powerful, Ratzlaff said the Bluejays are adapting new strategies.

?We?re implementing new things again this year,? she said. ?Everybody?s learning some things from scratch, and we?re re-learning things that we?ve done a certain way for a long time. I think that?s what keeps you fresh and keeps you working hard.?

Ratzlaff praised her players for working hard to fill the necessary voids.

?I really feel like the girls stepping into positions are working hard and going to do a good job,? she said. ?You just don?t know how everybody?s going to gel together because they?ve never played together before, and team chemistry seems to be probably better than it?s ever been. The work ethic on this team has been better than I have seen in years.?

With such a small roster, it will be important for athletes to remain healthy, she said.

Most important for the Bluejays will be fine-tuning the raw talent on the team.

?We have more athleticism than we had last year,? Ratzlaff said. ?That right there provides potential. It?s how quickly you can get that athleticism to be skilled and unified. That?s the key for us this year.?

Tabor started the season with a three-set victory over Waldorf in its home-opener Aug. 20. The Bluejays were scheduled to compete in the Missouri Valley Tournament Friday and Saturday. They will host Bethel tonight at 7 p.m. in their first conference game of the season.

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