In late November, members of the Concordia University volleyball team learned that there would be a new leader of the program in 2018. After the initial shock subsided for many Bulldogs, a new feeling emerged – one of opportunity.
One of the more experienced players on the team, junior-to-be Alex La Plant took the lead in addressing a group that has a renewed sense of togetherness and positivity that has refreshed a program coming off a 9-19 season. La Plant’s message clearly made an impact.
Said La Plant, “We all took the mindset that it was a new opportunity to grow and really define who we wanted to be. Not many teams get that kind of chance. We want to become better teammates, better friends and better people. This is a unique opportunity. We were excited to meet the coaches and see what the future had in store.”
A new chapter for the Bulldog volleyball program began on Dec. 19 when Concordia named Ben Boldt head coach. His wife Angie has also joined him as an assistant coach. The announcement trickled out as students were enjoying the Christmas break. For the majority of players on the team, it meant waiting until after New Year’s before getting to meet their new head coach.
Most Bulldogs knew just a few facts about Ben prior to his arrival. They learned that he was a native of Hickman, Neb., and that he had roots with the Husker volleyball program as a former student assistant under John Cook. A quick dive into the backgrounds of Ben and Angie revealed that they both possess extensive experience at the NCAA Division I level.
The players have also quickly learned that Ben and Angie have a way of relating to players. Said freshman Tara Callahan, “They’re really nice people – not just as coaches. They’re amazing people. I think that’s one thing it takes to be a good coach. They inspire us to be better every minute we’re with them. They’re that nice that we don’t want to lose their respect. We’ve been working hard in the gym.”
How hard exactly are they working? They say they’re being pushed like they’ve never been pushed before. Since the semester started, they have been working out at 6:30 a.m. or earlier four days per week and are now beginning to practice twice per week for the next three weeks. Admittedly sore from intense workouts overseen by strength and conditioning coach Todd Berner, the players are embracing some of the changes.
Said Sophomore Emmie Noyd, “The workouts have been tough, but we know from Coach Boldt being in there with us that he wants us to get better. He wants us to focus on getting better each day. It’s been really cool the way the atmosphere has already come about.”
Added Callahan, “I think it’s going to be awesome. I can’t wait to be in the greatest shape of my life.”
Ben Boldt got his tenure started by emphasizing a desire to build the type of foundation that he saw being constructed up close during his time at Nebraska. La Plant sees Boldt’s ideologies as a perfect fit for the program and for this group of players.
“He has pillars that he bases his philosophy on: love, hard work, trust and sacrifice,” La Plant said. “Those are just the perfect words and actions for this team. I think it will keep us accountable because it’s based on such a strong foundation. I think we’ll really be able to grow from that.”
For several Bulldogs, the first chance to see either Ben or Angie go to work on a volleyball court came at a Junior Dogs clinic on Jan. 7. With a coaching style of encouragement, Ben made good on his first impression. Even Ben and Angie’s toddler son Brady made an appearance that day. Concordia volleyball will truly be a family affair.
Whether Ben could tell or not, the Bulldog players were sizing him up and beginning to form their own thoughts on what they were about to get themselves into under a new regime that includes assistant coach Abby Pollart. One trait stood out in Noyd’s mind.
“He is a motivator,” Noyd said. “That’s the big word I would use for him. He’s just very positive and wants us to focus on getting better. Then with our little kids camp he was very active in showing the girls how to do stuff. He just took a very active role in the gym.”
‘Active’ is one way to describe Boldt’s style and philosophy. No one walks to the water fountain. No one just moseys over to shag a runaway volleyball. Everything must have a pace and purpose to it.
A new coach means change and new opportunity. It also means that it’s proving time for every single player on the roster. The playing field has been leveled. The players totally get it. Said Callahan, “We’re all equal until proven otherwise. Everyone has to work hard to earn a position.”
With a good seven months before any official volleyball matches are played, Concordia has time to completely reinvent itself under Boldt’s direction. The opportunity is there. Will the Bulldogs seize it?
Says La Plant, “We’re training like we’ve never trained before. We’re doing everything we can. The season starts now. Every day is an opportunity to get better. I’m ready to help my teammates get better. I think that’s what my role is on this team. What can I do to make my teammates around me better? Our coaches have the same exact mindset.”
Callahan added, “Everyone’s a little fired up. You can definitely see it on and off the court. We’re all excited to see where we go and where we end up.”