Several Bulldogs have worked this offseason to add heat to their fastballs. No, we’re not talking about Ryan Dupic’s Bulldogs, rather Scott Mattera’s group, one of the NAIA’s most proficient while attacking at the volleyball net in 2015 (No. 19 nationally in kills per game).
This spring Mattera collaborated with Dupic on drills designed to increase velocity for baseball pitchers. As a result, members of the Concordia volleyball team visited baseball practice where senior-to-be Paige Getz turned heads with her powerful right arm. Such drills are all part of an aim to enhance the swing speed of potent hitters such as Getz, Annie Friesen and Tiegen Skains.
“It really helped a few of them in terms of understanding explosiveness through the ball,” said Mattera, who also gives heavy praise to strength and conditioning coach Todd Berner. “Tiegen got more snap in her swing back right after we did that. Paige looks like a middle reliever when she does it. It helped a lot of them understand how the body is supposed to move together.”
Power on the attack again appeared to be a strength this spring over three exhibition matches and throughout practice that began following spring break. Known for its offensive weapons, Concordia has worked on more than just its ability to blister the floorboards. The Bulldogs want to be better at some of the finesse components of the game.
Some subtle tweaks have been made in the passing mechanics of a team piloted by two-time first team all-conference setter Alayna Kavanaugh. Mattera saw those changes come to fruition during exhibition play, particularly against a solid Central Community College opponent.
“How you handle that first touch is so important,” Mattera said. “That really makes the game a whole lot easier. We adjusted our passing technique and the way we teach it a little bit. It’s not a radical change, but just enough of a shift to make it more natural and athletic instead of mechanical. A lot of the girls have really taken to it. It’s a process but by the end of the spring we were really passing the ball noticeably better.”
Concordia figures to have a deep and talented team in year five under Mattera, who shared the 2015 GPAC coach of the year award with two others. All six returning all-conference performers competed this spring. Of them, four will be seniors for a squad teeming with experience.
The talent is undeniable. Four players who swatted at least 240 kills are back in addition to budding star defensive specialist Jocelyn Garcia and the reliable Kavanaugh, the facilitator for the bevy of Bulldog hitters. More than anything, Mattera wants to see continued leadership growth and development of team chemistry.
“Most of the upside happens in regards to intangibles (for upperclassmen),” Mattera said. “They can still improve. Athletically we had some nice gains, but really it comes down to how they are filling the leadership roles and mentorship roles. They also have to accept the new players into the program and make them part of our culture. That’s going to be a huge key for us.”
Leadership and mentorship are nice, but they aren’t what has spurred the electric crowds of recent years. The Walz roars are driven by thunderous floor-pounding kills and Friesen rock star salutes. Better passing is a key, but the power game won’t go away.
It could be even better. The connection between Getz and Kavanaugh grows more dangerous each season. In a match with NCAA Division II powerhouse University of Nebraska-Kearney, Getz shined while drawing the attention of the Loper head coach. No longer track and field athletes, Getz and Kavanaugh have put more time and energy into volleyball this spring.
“They didn’t have some of those nagging injuries from trying to do two sports,” Mattera said. “It’s a lot to ask at this level. They were healthier this spring. For Paige, just being able to focus on volleyball-style conditioning has helped her noticeably. When you watch her play, she’s been dominant on the outside. UNK didn’t have much of an answer for her. Her contact point is higher and she’s hitting the ball harder.”
The spring has also been a time for adjusting without the departing Claire White, who rarely came off the court during her three seasons as a Bulldog. It may take more than one player to replace her impressive production. Concordia has also had to move on without three graduating seniors who saw significant time as defensive specialists.
Back to that idea of chemistry. In effort to strengthen it this spring, the Bulldogs engaged in culture Fridays that included team breakfasts, instituted a leadership development group, ran volleyball clinics and aided in a campus 5K run. They also took a day to play sand volleyball at Spike’s in Lincoln.
“Our focus has always been on doing things the right way,” Mattera said. “The results will come. We’re also not going to shy away from the idea that we should be pretty good. But we’re in a league that has six, seven, eight teams that should be really good. There’s an interesting line to be balanced. We have to get where we want to be by getting better every day.”