Head coach Ben Boldt has often talked about controlling the controllables, a concept that can act as a guide both in athletics and in life. In the midst of a health pandemic out of any individual’s control, the Concordia University volleyball program is sticking to its meat and potatoes. The priorities that led the Bulldogs to the round of 16 at the 2019 national tournament remain the same.
This spring had been shaping up to be a productive period of training in preparation for perhaps the most anticipated volleyball season ever in Seward. Boldt, his staff and players have tried to make the stretch run of this semester feel as normal as possible.
“Our very first message when we had a team meeting on Zoom was that our priorities don’t change,” Boldt said. “We have our priorities listed as a group. First one is your faith. Number two is your family. Number three is academics. Number four is volleyball. And then No. 5 is your social life or your job. Academics are coming before volleyball and we want to be great at academics. We want to get better at volleyball, but our priorities in life don’t change. We have to figure out how to work in a safe way and get the most out of the time we have.”
Every program is in the same situation. Spring volleyball practices and scrimmages have been wiped away. Concordia had been looking forward to a matchup at 2019 NCAA Division II national runner up University of Nebraska-Kearney, a potential battle with an NCAA Division I foe and a meeting with Iowa Western Community College this spring. Those contests would have served as ultimate measuring sticks for a Bulldog program that finished last fall ranked 14th in the NAIA.
Considering the wealth of returning talent, Concordia appears to possess the maturity and the experience to ride out this unique period of time. All-American middle blocker Emmie Noyd will graduate, but the Bulldogs will return All-GPAC award winners in setter Tara Callahan (first team), outside hitter Camryn Opfer (freshman of the year), defensive specialist Marissa Hoerman (honorable mention) and outside hitter Kara Stark (honorable mention).
“We were physically looking really good by the time spring break rolled around,” Boldt said. “We did a round of testing just before spring break and we were in about the best physical shape we’ve seen since Angie and I have been here. Also during that time we did a lot of individual workouts. It was position groups coming in and working on their game. It was more about individually getting better and they did a really good job of that.”
In effort to make this spring semester more seamless, the coaches continue to meet (virtually) with the seniors-to-be at 3:45 p.m. every Monday while holding regular team devotions. If you’ve followed the team on Twitter (@cunevolleyball), you may have also noticed the smaller Zoom breakdowns among teammates (and the cooking tutorials!). The coaches and the seniors-to-be discuss the current book they are reading collectively and then apply lessons from the literature to the team.
While they may not be together physically, members of the team can still focus on the “little things,” which happens to be the motto for 2020. It follows the previous mantras of “champs before champs” in 2018 and “this is us” in 2019.
“’Little things’ is all encompassing,” explains Boldt. “You can be a champion and work on your relationships. It takes the little things and focusing on details that really help the big moments happen … Everybody’s going to come back and we’re going to start at ground zero. With this team coming back for next year – we have a veteran team. A lot of people have national level experience on the floor. They know what it takes to be great. We’ll see where we’re at once we’re able to come together.”
Like other teams at Concordia, the volleyball program has been making use of the TeamBuildr app that features workout plans put together by strength and conditioning coach Todd Berner. Senior-to-be Arleigh Costello is doing more than cooking shrimp tomato spinach pasta. She has the luxury of using in-home weight equipment.
One of the ways Boldt says his players are staying accountable to each other is by sharing photos via Snapchat of themselves after finishing workouts. Says Boldt, “If you don’t have access to weights there is a full program for body weight workouts. If you do have access to a weight room, Coach Berner also has that programmed in there. I’ve also seen Arleigh using the weight room in her garage with complete squat racks. I’m really jealous of that – I wish I had that in my house. We’re holding each other accountable. Seeing the sweat on people’s faces is motivating to want to be your best.”
Everything is aimed at staying positive and staying on schedule for preseason camp in the fall. There’s no pouting or lamenting the situation. There’s a hopeful tone and a desire to build upon the program’s deepest national tournament run ever. As seniors in 2020-21, Callahan, Hoerman and Stark are rocks while sophomores-to-be in Opfer and Kalee Wiltfong have the potential to grow into even brighter stars.
For now, we wait. The current epidemic has impacted all walks of life, including recruiting in college athletics. Many scheduled on-campus visits have gone virtual or have been postponed until a date to be determined. For Boldt, the key is simply to stay connected, no matter how it must be done.
A breakthrough 2019 campaign has the program thirsting for more. They didn’t want last season to ever end, so now they can’t wait for the 2020 season to get here.
Says Boldt, “There’s been excitement for this upcoming season ever since last season ended. Our rising senior class has really taken a big leadership role with everybody we have returning. They’re doing a really good job of leading our team through this, along with the coaches. That sense of excitement is there. I want us to be a team that is always hungry for more. That’s the challenge for this team.”