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BG Falcon Media

The BG News
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November 30, 2023

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Youth brings wins to BGSU

Freshmen usually come into a Division I volleyball program a step slow, inexperienced and a little naive as to what lies ahead during the first year.

But average newcomers, they aren’t.

Bowling Green State’s true freshmen core of Kendra Halm, Maggie Karges, Madeline Means, Elizabeth Simon and Stephanie Swiger all refused to adhere to the conventional wisdom and the Falcons are richer for it.

Head coach Denise Van De Walle said they were all good coming out of high school and have continued to mature.

“Our five pure freshmen have progressed a great deal in differing and various ways since we started practice in August,” she said. “Not even on the improvement side of things, all five of them are so easy to coach and great learners of the game and all of them are eager to get really good at this level.”

BGSU lost six seniors from last year’s 12-21 squad, who combined to play in a total of 1,287 career games for the Falcons.

Although the departures have been largely overshadowed by the freshmen’s steady development, which has been a big reason why the Falcons are 14-12 and 7-7 in the Mid-American Conference, according to head coach Denise Van De Walle.

“They have been very important to our success this year, because we had six open spots,” she said. “It’s been very, very, very important to count on them to do a good job.

“It’s not that they could just come in and be average, because we’ve asked them to come in and be very good in order for us to win and they’ve done that,” Van De Walle added. “

Halm, who is redshirting this season, had the least experience of the incoming freshmen but Van De Walle said her progress has been the most noticeable of the bunch.

The 5-foot-11 middle blocker said she has learned a lot about the game since she’s been at BGSU.

“I came from a really small high school and we really didn’t do much,” she said. “Even though I’m not on the court, I cheer my teammates on but I am very excited about next year.”

Karges started the opening game of the year against last year’s national runner-up in Florida, a game in which she produced six kills and has been consistent throughout the season, averaging 2.48 kills.

“She came in from probably one of the best club volleyball programs in the country,” Van De Walle said. “She has been on the floor for us almost non-stop since she got here and has contributed valuably.”

Means, who says she would choose minnie mouse if she could be a cartoon character because she’s “cute,” has seen action in 32 games and made her biggest contribution in the back row with 78 digs on the season.

“She went from being a pretty dominant left-side hitter in high school and club to right now, having to sit the bench and earn time defensively and passing wise,” Van De Walle said. “We’re relying on her backcourt skills … and in the spring we’ll break down her hitting and blocking, where she’ll make a bigger impact.”

The only local product of the freshmen is the shortest on the team at 5-foot-7, but Simon has played in 71 games and leads the freshmen with 178 digs.

The Bowling Green High School graduate said it was always dream for her to play for the Falcons.

“I did feel a lot of pressure, basically I just wanted to play in front of my hometown and have fun,” she said. “I’ve grown up watching the Falcons play, I came to the games when I was little and I looked up to them.”

Like Karges, Swiger made an immediate impact starting the first game and leading the team with eight kills against the Gators.

She has 193 kills on the season and is second on the team with 70 total blocks at the net.

Van De Walle said the intensity and passion Swiger brought to the floor has helped the team.

Swiger said none of the freshmen realized how important their role would be in BGSU’s success this season.

“We knew that they had lost crucial players last year and there were opportunities for us to come in and with hard work, get to play,” she said. “This year has been so neat, because the upperclassmen and everyone has made it just a smooth transition for all the freshmen.”

Two other new faces who have contributed to the Falcons improvement have been redshirt freshmen Corrie Mills and junior transfer Ashlei Nofzinger.

Mills sat out last season, but going up against seniors Melissa Mohr and Taylor Twite everyday in practice has paid dividends for the middle blocker who has provided a lift off the bench with 52 kills and 33 total blocks in 27 games.

“The redshirt year helped a lot, because I got to learn underneath Mel and Taylor and Bridget (Beers) last year,” she said. “I think we’re going to do really well in the future, because the team chemistry is good.”

Nofzinger, who came to BGSU from Loyola-Chicago has emerged late in the season, giving the Falcons a boost on the left-side.

The Holland, OH. native has appeared in 62 games and accounted for 120 kills – 24 in the last three games.

After starting the season losing three consecutive games, the team’s youthful spryness manifested itself as BGSU won eight of the next nine games.

Assistant coach Mark Hardaway, who coached the Falcons for eight of those games while Van De Walle was in Greece, said the freshmen matured during that stretch.

“They did everything that we asked of them, because they were willing to work hard and learn from the upperclassmen,” Hardaway said. “They’re a competitive group and I think all those things have contributed to them coming along.”

Despite the fact that the freshmen have not had a first-year player make the All-Freshman Team since Susie Norris in 2000, this year’s group can make a strong case for one, Karges said.

As for Van De Walle, she believes a solid foundation has been laid due to fruit of the freshmen’s labor.

“This is the earliest that I’ve asked a freshmen class to come in and contribute for us and they have all responded well and continued to get work hard and get better,” Van De Walle said. “They have bonded together and I know that they have set high goals for the future of the this program.”

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