Featured Story

Season preview: 2018 Concordia volleyball

By Jacob Knabel on Aug. 14, 2018 in Volleyball

Head coach: Ben Boldt (1st year)
2017 Record: 9-19 overall; 3-13 GPAC (T-8th)
Key Returners: S/RS Tara Callahan; DS Jenna Eller; DS Marissa Hoerman; OH Alex LaPlant; MB Anna Lund; MB Emmie Noyd
Key Losses: M Annie Friesen; DS Jocelyn Garcia
2017 GPAC All-Conference: Emmie Noyd (second team); Tara Callahan (honorable mention); Alex La Plant (honorable mention)

It’s a fascinating new world for the Concordia University volleyball program, now headed by a husband-wife coaching duo mentored by the University of Nebraska’s John Cook. Head coach Ben Boldt and assistant Angie Boldt are tasked with reinvigorating a program that was unable to build upon a national tournament appearance in 2015. As evidenced by their eighth-place slotting in the GPAC preseason poll, the Bulldogs have not generated lofty expectations from outsiders.

That’s not a concern with those inside the locker room. “Champs b4 champs” has become a moniker used by the coaching staff and players. It’s really about keeping a championship mindset and mentality.

“That’s right where we’re going with the process,” Ben Boldt said. “That’s what our focus is. We have high goals of what we want to attain but our focus is on that process. As we go through, you can just tell that idea is permeating through the team. The love, the trust, hard work and sacrifice that we’re preaching to them is just really showing through on the court and off the court. That culture is coming around. As coaches we have to stay out of the way. We have to let them do their thing. We have to guide them where we want to go. It’s happening. There’s a lot of hard work happening.”

The 2018 squad reported to campus on Aug. 9 for the start of preseason camp, a grind that’s meant to have the players ready for the demands of life in the GPAC. As it stands, Concordia has just one week before officially opening up the season in front of its home fans. And still a lot of questions remain.

Boldt spent much of his preseason interview talking about what has been accomplished so far in terms of implementing championship processes – and very little of it discussing specific personnel. One can only imagine that middle Emmie Noyd, a second team All-GPAC choice in 2017, will again be an integral building block. Setter Tara Callahan and outside hitter Alex La Plant are the other holdovers with All-GPAC accolades, but the entire picture won’t become complete until the lights come on.

Says Boldt, “I really want to see how we can first-contact the ball, how well we pass, how well we serve and how well we play defense. If we can do that at a high level then we’re going to be in a lot of matches. Beyond that we have to figure out what system we want to run. We’re not exactly sure just yet. We have some players that could allow us to go in a one-setter offense or a two-setter offense. That’s what we’re getting into now. We’ll figure that stuff out and we’ll be ready to roll.”

In the opening few days of preseason camp, Boldt has given equal opportunity to each of his players to show they deserve a role on the varsity. That’s going to soon change as the staff starts making decisions on which players will be awarded starring roles. There are plenty of other returners with experience beyond Callahan, La Plant and Noyd. Consider many others in the mix, such as Kelsey Baarck, Jenna Eller, Jenna Habegger, Marissa Hoerman, Anna Lund and more. Plus, there are the newcomers.

Noyd (.300 career hitting percentage) is a proven performer in the middle and Callahan has shown plenty of promise. In a home tilt with Northwestern last season, Callahan put up 33 assists, 12 kills and 11 digs in perhaps the signature effort of her freshman campaign. Meanwhile, La Plant’s 480 career kills are tops among current team members.

The early indications are positive. Practices are upbeat and energetic. The atmosphere is healthy. Says Noyd, “It’s actually been awesome. We met them right after Christmas break when we came back. It started right off the bat with spring training. We worked our butts off the whole spring season with 6 a.m. sprints and stuff. Not only were we getting close to the coaches, but with us girls you could feel a bond with the work that we went through. The Boldts have brought that family aspect to our team. That’s pretty cool too.”

Two transfers joined the program in the offseason. Defensive specialist Raymi Marquardt returns to Concordia after beginning her career in Seward before briefly landing elsewhere. Additionally, Iowa Western Community College transfer Kaci Hohenthaner will push for time at setter. Among the freshmen, Morgan Nibbe may be the most decorated. She was named the 2017 Nebraska Class D-2 Player of the Year. The list goes on.

There are a lot of names for precious few spots. Throw in the coaching change factor and the Bulldogs have the feel of a wild card in 2018. It’s difficult to know exactly what to expect. Boldt is not about to make any predictions in regards to on-court success in year one. The goal is work towards building a champion. It doesn’t happen overnight, but Concordia is fixated on the right things: controlling the controllables.

Success will follow. Champs before champs.

“It’s a mentality on the court and off the court,” Boldt said. “What we want to do is instill a championship mentality in these teams. You see teams at the end of the year that win national championships. They’re not talking about winning national championships. They’re talking about being a champion every day from training camp all the way through to the end of the season. That’s the mentality that we want to instill: champs before champs.”

Noyd is taking a cue from her head coach when talking about disregarding preseason rankings. It’s white noise that clouds a picture that is become clearer and clearer.

Says Noyd, “With the polls I try not to think about it, especially the past seasons and how we had a tough time with wins and losses. I try not to think about it. Everything has been so good and we haven’t even started the practices yet. We’ve had talent in the past. Now we’re trying to put it all together and have success on the court. It’s going to be fun to watch this season.”

The Boldt era is slated to begin next Tuesday (Aug. 21) when Concordia welcomes York College to Walz Arena for a 7 p.m. CT first serve. Max Country (104.9) will again serve as the radio home of Bulldog volleyball. Frank Greene will have the call for the season opener.