New up-tempo offense will fuel Tabor?s volleyball team

 Four seniors will anchor Tabor?s volleyball team this season: (from left)?Hollister Wolf, Jessie Vogts, Katie Kaufman, Amy Jo Maphet. The Tabor College volleyball team will debut a new offense this year after tying with Sterling for fourth place in the KCAC at 12-6 last season.

Tabor, who was 18-10 last year, is ranked No. 2 in the coaches? preseason poll.

?I always hope for No. 2 in the preseason poll,? said coach Amy Ratzlaff, who begins her 15th year. ?No. 2 lets you do your thing, but shows that people respect that you have talent.?

Strengths on offense

That talent is evidenced on offense with a mix of experienced returners and talented newcomers.

Heading the list of veterans is setter Hollister Wolf, a 2012 All-KCAC first-team selection and preseason team pick the past two years. The talents of the 5-foot, 4-inch senior has enabled the change in offense this year.

?She?s just solid, and because of what she can bring to the table, we?re running a completely different offense that should be faster and more powerful, and it?ll be fun for the crowd to watch,? Ratzlaff said.

Tabor also returns outside hitters Katie Kaufman and Jessie Vogts. The two seniors are sisters.

?It?s just fun to see them out there playing together,? Ratzlaff said. ?They have different talents.?

Kaufman (5-11) was a first-team all-conference selection last season and was a preseason team pick for 2013.

?(Katie?s) an unbelievable technical player,? Ratzlaff said. ?Her skills are more refined than almost any player I?ve ever worked with. She?s an extremely talented athlete and just has the athleticism to go with it.?

Vogts (6-0) was a second-team selection last year and also was chosen for the preseason team.

?Offensively, Jessie is one of the smartest court players I have coached,? Ratzlaff said. ?She?s got a great sense of the game. She?s very capable of executing strategy and understands strategy, and that piece is very helpful.

?She also hits a little bit quicker ball that is very hard to stop, and it is a good complement to the other things that we have going on the court. She?s just a really hard hitter to block because of the intelligence with the fast arm swing. It?s really effective.?

Sophomore middle hitter Katelin Horstick (6-2), a 2012 second-team selection and preseason pick this year, is another key contributor.

?(Katelin) will be a huge key to how good we are at the end of the season,? Ratzlaff said. ?She has this unbelievable way of just making everything work. She?s a great athlete with great expectation, and so she?s not picky. She just goes out there and gets the job done.?

Freshman Tena Loewen (5-11), an outside hitter from Hillsboro, has already seen playing time and is Tabor?s top incoming player, Ratzlaff said.

?(Tena) just doesn?t make mistakes, and that is very uncommon for a freshman athlete,? she said. ?She also never backs down. She is aggressive all the time?and again, you just don?t see that type of play from a freshman player.?

Loewen, who is expected to contribute both offensively and defensively, has already adjusted to the faster speed that collegiate volleyball brings.

?It?s almost like she was just ready for this fast pace,? Ratzlaff said. ?Most freshmen need to kind of get used to the speed of college. She just picked up like, ?I?ve been waiting for this all my life.??

Defensive strengths

Anchoring the Tabor defense will be senior defensive specialist Amy Jo Maphet (5-6).

Maphet has had a strong start to the season.

?Her defense was the best defense I?ve ever seen her play,? Ratzlaff said of her performance in the Northwestern game Aug. 23. ?She has just come into her own. She?s confident and relentless.

Ratzlaff added: ?I just could not be more excited for her senior season. I feel like last year she kind of scratched the surface of her capabilities, and this year, I?m really seeing her bloom in her position, and that is going to be a fun thing to watch.?

Additional players to watch include junior defensive specialist Whitney Maple (5-6) and junior middle blocker Courtney Erwin (6-0).

?(Whitney) just has a calm presence about her on the court that is just very dependable, and I think the girls enjoy that,? Ratzlaff said. ?They always know what to expect.

?Courtney just brings a lot of spark. She is that player that she?s always excited. She just brings a lot of life to the court.?

Season outlook

Ratzlaff said the Bluejays are team-oriented, which will be a strength this season.

?There?s just not a lot of selfish ambition, and that creates an environment that is fun to play in,? she said.

Judging by what she saw at the Northwestern Tournament Aug. 23-24, Ratzlaff said her team has a ?relentless pursuit? of the game.

But there?s room for improvements, too.

?We have a lot of work to do,? Ratzlaff said. ?But I think if you set your expectations high, then they?re going to be motivated to work.?

Ratzlaff is hoping the Bluejays can fine-tune their offense this season.

?Our goal this year is just a stronger, faster offense,? she said. ?That?s why we?re running this different system. We don?t have all the kinks of that worked out yet. That takes a lot of work.?

The faster pace should be enjoyable for fans.

?As the season progresses, I think it?ll be exciting to watch as this faster speed sets in,? Ratzlaff said. ?I think that?s going to be what gets us over the speed bump with some teams is if we can run faster and stronger.?

Conference opponents to watch include Kansas Wesleyan, Ottawa and Friends, Ratzlaff said.

The Bluejay coach appreciates the support her team receives throughout the season.

?We feel like the best thing about Tabor volleyball is our support,? she said. ?We are just so excited to play in our home gym.

?Above all, I feel like we draw the best home crowd of any other team that we see out there. It?s amazing what our crowd does for us, and it just makes us anxious to be at home playing.?

The Bluejays, currently 3-1 on the season, will get their first opportunity to play at home Sept. 4 when the team hosts conference foe Southwestern with a 7 p.m. start.

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