This is part five in our 2012 preview of the Creighton volleyball team. Today we look at the hitter positions.
Part 2: Conference Opponents
Part 3: Defensive Specialists
Part 4: Middle Blockers
Heading into the 2012 season, one of the more solid positions for the Creighton volleyball team is on the outside and right side of the rotation. Despite the loss of Karisa Almgren to graduation, the Bluejays return starters at the hitting positions. And the Jays can present a lot of different looks in the rotation.
Junior Natalie Hackbarth is the veteran leader for the Bluejays. Last season, Hackbarth came into the season looking for more opportunities to contribute to the team. As the season went on, she was one of the more consistent players in the rotation. Although she finished sixth on the team in kills with 126, she also added in a solid 149 digs. The Algona, Iowa, native has grown into her position and is ready to contribute even more this season.
“I can say I am a more experienced player as far as knowledge on the court,” said Hackbarth. “This is my third year and I think I know the game a lot better.”
During the offseason, Hackbarth worked on her strength in the weight room.
“We do a lot of speed stuff, because of volleyball we play on such a small court; we need to get place to place quick.”
With a bigger aspect on the physical part of the game, players like Hackbarth have taken great strides.
On the opposite side resides sophomore Leah McNary. She was slated to redshirt last season, but it was hard to keep McNary off the court and she entered the rotation just eight matches into the season. McNary became one of the more exciting players to watch because of her high-rise ability. She finished the season on the Missouri Valley Conference All-Freshman team playing a high level.
McNary worked hard in the offseason, even taking a spur of the moment trip to China this summer to do some training with China nationals.
“I think it was a big confidence booster,” said McNary. “Whenever I get down on myself, I think about that experience. I was capable of doing it there, so I can do that here.”
While Hackbarth and McNary have done a good job establishing themselves, head coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth may still tinker with the lineup with several other options inside the pins. One of those players could be freshman Melanie Jereb. She was spectacular in the Blue & White scrimmage last week, playing exclusively with the Blue team. Jereb finished with several kills and a few ace serves. Out of Cary, Illinois, Jereb had 330 digs, 321 kills and 45 aces her senior year in high school, when she earned All-Area and All-Conference honors.
But there are others that could fill in as needed. Katie Neisler is sort of a jack-of-all-trades player that has played both as an outside hitter and a defensive specialist, including a set as the libero in the Blue & White scrimmage. The sophomore played in all 31 matches last season and started 12 of them. Look for her to play where needed.
It is likely that Savannah Smith and Lauren Smith will play more in the middle blocker position, but they could also move over to play the outside or right side as needed as well as redshirt freshman Lizzy Stivers.
With so many options, the Bluejays look to have depth at the hitter position. Expectations are high to get back to the NCAA Tournament, something Hackbarth and McNary are excited about.
“That is one of my dreams. If we were able to go, that would be great,” said McNary. “With the talent we have now, I think we will be able to pull it through.”
A big key to that opportunity comes in the regular season.
“I think the pre-conference tournament games will be big for us,” said Hackbarth. “Once we go out and show how strong we are this year and push over teams that are expected to beat us, that will say a lot.”
Join us tomorrow as we look at the Creighton setters