Aug. 20, 2012
Underclassmen ready to lead ‘Cats in 2012
By David Boyce
When it comes to Brooke Bartosh, Abby Graves and Bailey Vance, the term sophomore slump will be a thought not applicable to them.
There is a reason why second-year players struggle regardless of their level. Royals’ can’t-miss first baseman Eric Hosmer is a perfect example of it. The mystery is gone. The opponent has figured out the player’s weakness.
While Bartosh, Graves and Vance will most likely go through their ups and downs in their second season, expect them to play key roles in helping the Northwest Missouri State volleyball team improve on last season’s 14-17 record.
For one, they and their four other sophomore classmates received valuable experience last year. The freshmen, who did not see much court time a year ago, still learned what it takes to be successful in the MIAA.
Northwest, which was picked seventh out of 13 teams in the MIAA preseason poll, remains one of the youngest teams in the conference. Five freshmen will join the seven sophomores.
“Through our experiences we can let them know what to expect, not only on the court, but off the court as well,” Vance said. “We can help them when they are on the court and we see them do something wrong, we can let them know. We can hold them accountable and not just let the coaches get on them all the time.”
The newcomers only have to watch Vance, Graves and Bartosh to pick up a few playing tips.
Vance was a defensive specialist, spending her time in the back row, doing the dirty work of digging out kills. Vance played in all 31 games and finished with 207 digs, including a season-high 17 against Fort Hays State.
The work of a defensive specialist sometimes goes unnoticed. Interim head coach Amy Phelps, who was an assistant last season, saw Vance’s value.
“Bailey has a very consistent presence,” Phelps said. “You do not see her go up and down at all. She is very even keel. She is more comfortable. She is going to keep getting better.”
The players on the floor who garner the most attention are the frontline hitters and that’s where Graves and Bartosh made immediate impacts in their first season.
Despite missing a few games because of a concussion, Bartosh had 289 kills in the 27 matches she started. Bartosh, who is 6-1, has an imposing presence at the net.
Finally, Graves, who is several inches shorter than Bartosh, is just as intimidating at the net. Her leaping ability allowed her to lead the Bearcats in kills with 298. She was also second on the team in digs with 321.
“Abby and Brooke are going to be big kill leaders on the team,” Phelps said. “We will go to them. They are athletes who can take a lot of swings for you. We are excited about their athleticism. They don’t have much of a ceiling. Their ceiling is super high.
“They say there are sophomore slumps, but I think for them they are going to keep rising.”
All three players had success in high school and with their club teams. Obviously, losing a few more matches than winning was a bit tough for them last season.
But they understood the growing process. In addition, all they had to do was look at the talent around them and the years left playing together to realize the best was yet to come.
“We started with so much talent,” Graves said. You can go one way and that is up. We have so many young people who play on the court that we are only going to get better if we keep playing together. We are all here together.
“You just keep getting better the more you play together. Since we’ve started so young together we are going to keep growing.”
That kind of youthful enthusiasm allowed them to handle a coaching change in the middle of the summer.
The players had a sense that Jessica Rinehart might leave after she had her second child. There are just not enough hours in the day to care for two small children and coaching a volleyball team through the rugged MIAA.
“I wouldn’t say it is tough more than it was sad for us, losing her as the coach, but having Amy step up and keep it in the Bearcat family already has helped us,” Graves said. “There are not too many big changes.
“But we miss coach as a person, definitely. Her new house is on my way home. We have already decided we will have to meet and have a couple of dinners. She said she will definitely come back and watch some games.”
Because of their important roles on the court, it only seems natural that Graves, Bartosh and Vance take a leadership role on the team. Bartosh doesn’t see it that way.
“I feel like everyone is a leader,” Bartosh said. “Everyone contributes in their own way to lead whether it is by saying something to someone or just by leading by example.”
If any of the freshmen struggle, which almost always happen the first year in college athletics, they have plenty of teammates to turn to for advice.
“We’ve learned a lot about how disciplined we need to be on the court,” Vance said. “As freshmen, you don’t know what to expect. We learned we really needed to be disciplined on the court and stick together as a team and play hard every single point.”
Even though practice has just begun, Phelps can already see a difference in the sophomores.
“They look more comfortable,” she said. “It’s their second year. Now they understand. I think the whole team is going through a transition of learning as I am. I think they are all on the same boat in that sense.
“The sophomores know me. With the confidence of having a year under your belt, you become more confident when you play.”
The Bearcats are poised to claw their way up the MIAA standings and do what the 2010 team did in becoming the first volleyball team in Northwest history to reach the NCAA Division II Tournament.
“I want to make it to the NCAA Tournament,” Bartosh said. “I think everybody has that same goal, too. We are on the same page with it.”
The Bearcats begin their quest to a winning season Aug. 31-Sept. 1 in West Palm Beach, Fla., with four matches at the Hyatt Place Sunshine Classic. The first home match is Sept. 14 versus conference newcomer Lindenwood.
“We were a young team last year and that is always hard because you have to rebuild,” Vance said. “We had seven freshmen so you have seven new people to integrate into the team. It worked out. We have a lot of newcomers this year. We have experience. We are ready to go for this season.”
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