Sept. 24, 2013
Graves, Volleyball Ready for Test at WashburnBy David Boyce | Northwest at Washburn | Sept. 24, 2013 at 7 p.m. | Live Stats | Live Video
MARYVILLE, Mo. - Even without a scouting report, Northwest Missouri State junior outside hitter Abby Graves knows what to expect from Washburn Tuesday night at Lee Arena in Topeka, Kan.
Over the years, Washburn has been one of the elite programs in the MIAA. The Ichabods are especially tough at home.
Northwest, 6-5 overall and 2-1 in the MIAA, wants to get to that level and that means beating teams like Washburn.
Graves is one of the players on a more-experienced Northwest squad who understands the level of commitment and togetherness it takes to beat good programs.
She sees it in her teammates.
“Ever since we started in the summer, I feel like this team has a lot more connection than past years,” Graves said. “We have been a lot more open with each other. We have freshmen speaking up in huddles, which is awesome. It is only going to make them better when they get older.
“Our seniors are really good at keeping everyone on top of things. It is really a collective effort which is really good.”
The Bearcats showed they are in this together after overcoming a disappointing home loss a week ago to rival Missouri Western. It was Northwest’s home opener. The Bearcats do not return home for another match until Oct. 15.
Northwest rebounded from that set back to win 3-1 at Lindenwood on Friday and then traveled across state to beat Missouri Southern 3-1 the following day.
In the victory against Missouri Southern, Graves led the way with 15 kills. She only made three errors for a .522 hitting percentage.
Graves will need to perform at that level or better in order for the Bearcats to beat Washburn. She has plenty of help from returners who have gone through similar experiences over the same time span.
Two of those players are junior right side hitter Brooke Bartosh and junior defensive specialist Bailey Vance. Bartosh leads the team in kills and Vance has nearly twice as many digs as anybody else on the team.
Graves brings an all-around game plus plenty of energy.
“She is one of the people who has consistently shown she can put balls away,” Northwest coach Amy Woerth said of Graves. “On offense, you have to have your go-to hitters. Her and Brooke Bartosh have fit that mold since their freshmen year.
“It is nice to have a supporting cast to take some pressure off them but still allows them to be go-to hitters.”
Graves enjoys life on the volleyball court. She still shows the same enthusiasm on the court after a big kill. She pumps her fist. She smiles. She enjoys the game.
Off the court, Graves is a bit different from the freshman that showed up on campus from Grundy Center High School in Iowa.
“It is getting down to crunch time with classes and making sure I get all the classes that I need for my major and thinking about internships,” Graves said.
“I’m in public relations with a minor in Spanish. My goal is to work behind the scene of a sports team with marketing and advertising.”
Northwest’s difficult road schedule in the first half of the season makes it tough on studying. Only one of the Bearcats first 11 matches have been at home. Their next seven matches, including Tuesday night’s match at Washburn, are on the road.
“It is a little stressful with classes. We are missing quite a bit of school, which is tough,” Graves said. “You have to look towards the end when we have a week of home games. That will be nice and really help when it comes to crunch time and we need wins.
“You have to do a lot of time management. Those bus rides are not for naps. Those are for studying and trying to get ahead in classes.”
It is the life of a student-athlete who wants to excel in competition and the classroom. Graves has plenty of peers who are just like her.
“I really love the family of athletes,” Graves said. “We have been kind of growing up together. We are all going through the same thing. You have people who can offer you advice. “Northwest is a great school. Every teacher and instructor is helpful. All the coaches, we all talk to each other. It is really comfortable to be around. I like it a lot.”
Graves certainly likes what she sees on the court.
“Definitely,” she said. “We have really high goals this year. We have the talent to do it. I think we will have a good year.”
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