According to head coach Ben Boldt, the Concordia University volleyball team is beginning to take the shape he and assistant coach Angie Boldt envisioned when they were officially announced as new leaders of the program in December of 2017. Of course there is progress yet to be made and likely still growing pains to be experienced.
No volleyball team is a finished product in the spring, certainly not one that went 5-11 in conference play in 2018. The struggles were part of the process as the Boldts encouraged a mindset of “champs before champs.” The model of behaving like champions before winning a championship is not going away. It feeds into a new theme for 2019.
“This year our motto is ‘this is us,’” Ben Boldt said. “It speaks to the standard at which we want to do things. We’re still setting the tone as coaches. We’re still trying to grow in the area where players are holding each other accountable. We’re setting a standard where if we’re working at this work rate, this is who we are. This is us. Wherever we are at that moment in time, we have to own who we are. That’s where we’re at.”
If you watched any Bulldog volleyball this spring, you may have heard the team break the huddle with a “this is us” chant. And who they are right now is a group that believes it is on the rise. Evidence of improvement was shown publicly in the team’s three play dates this spring, including a tournament in Omaha where Concordia took on local foes in Doane and Nebraska Wesleyan as well as NCAA Division III Wartburg College (Iowa) and Kansas State University. Yes, the one that competes in the Big 12.
The Concordia team that competed this spring is not exactly the complete squad that Bulldog fans will see in the fall. For one, budding outside hitter Kara Stark was absent while interning at the White House (yes, the one in Washington, D.C.). In addition, the Boldts will have their first full recruiting class coming in this August. Unfortunately, Morgan Nibbe has been sidelined by an injury that could force her to miss the entire 2019 season. Even so, the results were mostly promising.
“It was fun for our players to play against a power five level team,” Ben Boldt said. “The height at which they play is different, but the competition is fun. We’re not focused on the winning and losing this time of year. We’re focused on how hard we play and how we’re connecting. We’ll see if the results pay dividends this fall.
“We’re starting to look like the volleyball team we envisioned. We’re not quite there consistently. We see it in spurts. We have it for a little bit of time and then we make a couple of errors. We need to be more consistent, but it’s coming along. We’re pretty excited about it.”
Strength and conditioning is year round for any collegiate athlete these days, but the Bulldogs hit it especially hard after the Christmas break. The rigorous workouts were lessened after spring break when the team went through a six-week segment focused on volleyball. Now that the Boldts are more familiar with their players, training has been tailored for “individualized fundamental development.”
With the second semester being a period without official matches, it’s a great opportunity for team building. One such opportunity for growth presented itself when University of Nebraska volleyball star Mikaela Foecke spoke to the team about leadership. Foecke is somewhat of a rock star around these parts for her role in two Husker volleyball national titles.
“The conference we had with Foecke was really good, especially for our seniors,” Ben Boldt said. “We sat our whole returning senior class down with her and had about an hour-long conversation with her about her development as a leader through her time at Nebraska and how she would deal with certain situations. It’s really nice to hear our players listening to her talk about the same things that Angie and I have been talking about to them. To hear that in her words really makes a big impact with our players.”
Ben Boldt also says that the players have been put in situations to learn more about each other this spring. The players have been grouped into “families.” The idea is that growing closer together off the court will translate to benefits on the court. Often the players will tweet photos of themselves hanging out together engaging in activities such as prayer at chapel, studying or eating meals. It’s also common for members of the team to get out in the community, as they recently did with a visit to Bright Beginnings Child Development Center in Seward.
As for on the court, Concordia will welcome back many of its key players from this past fall, including two-time second team all-conference performer Emmie Noyd, who will enter her senior year, and setter Tara Callahan. A lot of attacking chances will be up for grabs with 2018 kills leader Jenna Habegger graduating. That void has created exciting opportunities for up-and-comers this spring.
The word Ben Boldt keeps coming back to is consistency, something the Bulldogs lacked in 2018. The positive was how that season ended with wins in two of the final three regular season matches and a five-set loss at Midland (eventual national semifinalist) sandwiched in between. Says Boldt, “Our players have made a lot of strides. We’re passing the ball really well and we’re serving the ball really well. When we can do those two things, we’ll be in every single match.”
In a few short months, the Bulldogs hope to show everyone exactly what “this is us” means. For now, Ben Boldt can explain it. Says Ben, “One of Angie and I’s favorite shows is This Is Us on NBC. It’s about a family that comes from all walks of life. There’s good times, there’s bad times, but the family is really set in love and moving forward to get the best out of each other. We see a lot of similarities in what they go through and what we go through.”