Volleyball prepares for coaches return

Jason A. Dixon and Jason A. Dixon

It isn’t the Mid-American Conference Championship the Bowling Green State volleyball team has set its sights.

Although, nine out of 10 wins and their first 2-0 start in the conference since 1998 has revitalized BG, and sent a sense of calmness and relief over the program after suffering through two straight losing seasons.

As evidenced in yesterday’s practice where BG players began carefully “scheming” a surprise to welcome coach Denise Van De Walle back from Athens, Greece.

“We just want a little welcome back gift, so to speak,” junior Emily Manser said smiling. “So, when she gets back from Greece … since she’s been gone for three weeks, we just want her to know that we care and that we were thinking about her.”

Not to be lost in Van De Walle’s return to the sidelines, is the Falcons’ five-game road swing, which begins with trips to Miami and Ball State on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Manser, who was named MAC West Player of the Week, said the team is ready for the challenge.

“I think the mood of the team has been really optimistic this week,” she said. “We’re obviously getting confidence, which needs to be built after the last two seasons. But it’s not like an overconfidence, it’s a confidence where we believe that we can compete with anyone and win.”

Winning is something BG has exacted over the RedHawks four out of The last five meetings.

MU (2-9, 0-2) hasn’t beaten the Falcons since 2001.

Head coach Carolyn Condit acknowledges her team’s recent struggles against BG, but she said the key will be the RedHawks’ passing and hitting.

“If we can do those two things, then we should have a successful weekend,” she said. “Bowling Green is a good team. I look at their team and they’ve been doing a good share of winning this year. They are a much improved team, just like we are. So it should be a really good match up this weekend.”

Redshirt senior Tara Buroker leads MU with 2.92 kills per game, followed by Jenna Staun’s 2.33.

The RedHawks are at that bottom of the conference in opponent hitting percentage (.296) and digs (12.35), but assistant coach Mark Hardaway said MU’s statistics and record may be misleading.

The RedHawks have faced six teams which advanced to the 2003 NCAA Tournament, including Illinois twice, Georgia Tech, Cincinnati and they collected a win over Texas Christian at home.

“They may have played the toughest non-conference schedule of any team in the MAC,” Hardaway said. “People look at their record and think it’s a push over game and people make that mistake, but I don’t think we’re going to make that mistake.

“We expect it to be a good match,” he said. “It’s one we feel like we can win if we execute the game plan and do what we’re supposed to do.”

Ball State sits in fourth place in the MAC West with a 1-1 record and a 7-6 overall mark.

The Cardinals are led by Sarah Obras, who is third in the conference, averaging 4.87 kills and Rachel Refenes, the MAC leader in blocks with 1.87 per game.

“Ball State is very good,” Hardaway said. “I watched them on tape against Ohio and it was a very good match. They have a lot of upperclassmen back and they’re playing pretty well right now.”

Senior Melissa Mohr, who is third in the conference in blocks at the net with 1.41, said it might be a little adjustment when Van De Walle coaches Friday night.

“For the most part, I think Coach Hardaway has kept the same mentality,” she said. “He’s been coaching us the same way. I think she will be a little more strict on the little things, which we’ve been used to. Hopefully, it won’t be that big of a deal and everything will fall back into place how it was.”

Hardaway said he enjoyed coaching the team during Van De Walle’s absence.

“You just go back to being the assistant and that’s what I came here to do,” he said. “For me, it was fun and I’m very honored that Coach Van De Walle had enough trust to let me watch over the program while she was gone.

“But I am ready for her to come back,” he said. “For us to do well this year I think she needs to be back. We need her experience and her leadership. She does things in a certain way and I’m just ready for her to come back.”