Concordia is exactly the type of place Kelsey Baarck wanted to land at. In just a single year in Seward, Baarck has been especially impressed by the caring nature of the people of the university and the surrounding community.
It didn’t take long for Baarck to assimilate after transferring in from Mott Community College in Flint, Mich. Says Baarck, “Everyone generally cares about you. It’s just so nice to be at a place where everyone is so nice.”
For the most part, Baarck recruited Concordia. She contacted the Concordias of Ann Arbor, Chicago and Nebraska. Head coach Scott Mattera liked what he saw on the surface. While on a visit, Baarck skied high to pulverize volleyballs to the floor. Mattera and assistant coach Amanda Abbott looked at each other with matching grins. They knew they had found something.
Baarck didn’t put on much of a poker face herself. Her mother Stephanie, a Concordia-Chicago alum, easily picked up on it.
“My first impression was that it was a lot like home,” Baarck said. “It’s a small town like Frankenmuth. I just fell in love with it right away. My mom, she knew. We went to visit Chicago and Ann Arbor, but right away she knew I wanted to come here. She said, ‘I can see it on your face.’ I just felt comfortable. It just felt right.”
Baarck is one reason to be optimistic about Concordia’s chances of returning to its 2015 national tournament levels. The 5-foot-10 native of Frankenmuth, Mich., possesses loads of athleticism, as evidenced by her work in the weight room. She owns the volleyball program’s record in the standing broad jump and she can leap a 51-inch stack of boxes. Yeah, she’s got hops.
“She spent the fall just killing it against us in practice,” Mattera said. “We’re really excited about her. Her athleticism is a huge plus. She’s up there with the most explosive athletes that I’ve had here in five years. She embodies what we want Concordia athletics to be. I think she’s going to raise some eyebrows when people see her play.”
Mattera has a much better idea of what to expect of Baarck than any Bulldog fans. She spent the 2016 campaign as a redshirt and still has two years of eligibility remaining. This past fall she sat on the bench, wore No. 29 and held a clipboard, which she inadvertently broke during a match with Missouri Valley College. Now she’s ready to break opponents by smashing volleyballs from the outside.
Sitting out is never easy for any competitor. Baarck is ready to bite this fall.
“Probably one of the hardest experiences was sitting there and wanting to help the team, but knowing that I really couldn’t,” Baarck said. “I tried to do what I could on the bench and just keep the team positive when we were in tough situations.”
What some Concordia observers may have noticed last season is how well Baarck can rock out to some Cotton Eye Joe. She’ll help keep the mood light with her dance moves and she’ll also help a team win. She was a key member of Mott teams that went a combined 61-20 in her two seasons as a Bear. The 2014 squad went 38-7 while Baarck garnered conference freshman of the year honors.
That winning pedigree should serve Concordia well as it looks to rebound from last year’s 15-19 campaign. Baarck is one of the answers to the question: who replaces Paige Getz and Tiegen Skains as pin hitters? A top flight athlete, Baarck could quickly become a fan favorite once she begins pelting the Walz Arena floor boards while showcasing her high-flying abilities.
“I’ve always been a natural jumper,” Baarck said. “I was really short my freshman year of high school. In order to be an outside hitter I had to learn to jump over the block. I really pushed myself my freshman year to work on my jump so I could be the hitter I wanted to be – and I grew. That was helpful, too.”
An early childhood education major, Baarck’s return to the court comes at the perfect time for a program that said goodbye to an accomplished senior class. The Bulldogs will need her to help overcome a rigorous conference that ended up with the top-three ranked teams in last season’s final coaches’ poll.
This group is just fine with flying under the radar. The Bulldogs are ready to Baarck back with the help of a certain native of The Great Lakes State.
“I love being the underdog,” Baarck said. “I love being underestimated and being able to show people that they have to take us seriously.”
No predictions were given – except for one. There will be more dancing. “I always dance,” Baarck said. “That’s my warmup. That’s how I get myself pumped.”