With precious few weeks to get accustomed to a new head coach, members of the Concordia University volleyball team have gone about the spring semester like a DVR with three arrows pointing to the right. While head coach Ben Boldt has put an emphasis on urgency, he won’t be reinventing the wheel. “Volleyball is volleyball,” says Boldt.
There’s been a lot of volleyball this spring for 17 Bulldogs who have been actively involved in workouts and practices. Boldt and his staff spent three weeks focusing on individual skills prior to spring break. The six weeks after spring break included roughly 30 official team practices and two play dates.
Boldt and a staff that includes Abby Pollart, Ben’s wife Angie and graduate assistant Abby Saehler now know a great deal more about the 2018 squad. Many positives emerged from the spring.
“We’re thinking about processes,” Boldt said. “I don’t want to base how I feel about the spring scrimmages on wins and losses, but we did pretty well this spring. They really came in and performed well. They communicated well. They embraced what it was that we were trying to accomplish. I thought blocking-wise we did pretty well. That’s one of the things that’s going to determine how good we can be – our play at the net. I thought we came away from the spring as a better blocking team than when we started.”
It’s been an eventful time for Ben Boldt, who was officially named head coach on Dec. 20. He and Angie then welcomed their second child, Addison Marie, into the world on April 6. It adds another variable to the balancing act for Boldt, but he appears unfazed. It simply means the Bulldog family keeps growing.
Growth is what the spring is all about, whether an established program or one coming off a season that fell below expectations. Boldt is talking about tempo and pace in everything that his team does. What does that really mean in volleyball? It can be as simple as sprinting to the water fountain during a break in practice.
“I don’t know that the techniques are all that different,” Boldt said. “I think maybe the pace at which we do it may be a little bit different. We’re trying to get them fast back to serve, get them fast back to serve receive and get them fast within the rally and to be ready for everything. We’re getting them to match the pace of what’s happening.”
The process is still young enough that Boldt is a bit hesitant to single many players out. However, sophomore-to-be Tara Callahan impressed with her ability to handle a heavy workload this semester. Naturally, the setter is going to be looked to for leadership. An honorable mention All-GPAC choice as a freshman, the 6-foot-1 native of Brady, Neb., is a big part of the present and the future.
Callahan handled essentially every setting opportunity in spring matches against College of Saint Mary, Central Community College, Nebraska Wesleyan, Northwest Missouri State and Peru State.
“People will come out naturally (as leaders),” Boldt said. “We did have an injury which forced Tara to be our only setter for all of spring. Every time the ball’s on our side of the court she’s touching it so she kind of evolved into that person for us this spring. We’ll see what happens in the future, but I thought Tara did a really nice job.”
Each of the team’s three all-conference honorees – Callahan, Alex La Plant (honorable mention) and Emmie Noyd (second team) – are back from this past fall. Next year’s senior class will feature players with varsity experience such as Kelsey Baarck, Jenna Habegger and Madison Horne.
Boldt liked what he saw from many of the aforementioned names, and he’s going to keep pushing. He’s not complaining at all about the effort or energy he saw this spring, but he’ll expect his team to be at another level when fall camp rolls around. It’s unclear at this moment what to expect this fall in terms of on-the-court success, but the coaching staff is expecting this team to strive to be in better shape than its opponents.
“I’m happy with where we’re at today,” Boldt said. “One of the lasting messages I gave them after our scrimmages was that we did a great job working to get here, but we can’t be satisfied. In a sense, I was satisfied with the spring, but not yet satisfied as far as where we need to go. We always want to create that sense within our team of not being satisfied, even when we win the GPAC championship. We can always expect more out of ourselves.”
Boldt certainly will expect a lot of himself – so too will John Cook, head coach of national champion University of Nebraska. In a statement at the time of Boldt’s hiring, Cook wrote, “It is a great day for volleyball in this state. Their (Ben and Angie) goal has been to be in Nebraska and they will now create another nationally ranked NAIA team in Nebraska.”
Says Ben of his return to Nebraska, “It’s been awesome. It’s been everything that we thought it was going to be. In conversations we’ve had with people, a lot of them have met my family in one sense or another. You talk about seven degrees of separation. We have a lot of connections with the people we’re recruiting and playing against. It’s been really nice.”
As a way of embracing the new surroundings, Ben has opened up his family to the team. The Bulldogs have been introduced to Addison and her older brother Brady. Says Ben, “I think it’s great for them to have a role model in Angie who can be working, be a coach and also be a mom. For them to see that I think is very important. They have done a great job of welcoming us into the Bulldog family.”
Heading into the summer, there’s a fascination about how the program will mesh together with the help of some of the newest members of the Bulldog family. Boldt is preaching fitter, faster, stronger while increasing the tempo and the urgency. Concordia volleyball aspires to come at you fast, just as the 2018 season surely will.