Beavers set to defend Heartland Conference title
August 19, 2010
By: Erin Neal, sports information assistant
Under the direction of sixth-year Head Coach Steve Yarnell, the Bluffton University Women's volleyball team is set to embark on another season of success and achievement. Hot off their 27-6 finish in 2009, the Beavers saw many notable and memorable performances, including bringing home the HCAC tournament crown to Founders Hall in a five-set thriller over rival Mt. St. Joseph, finishing conference play with a spotless 8-0 mark and making their debut in the NCAA Regional Tournament. Throughout the season they proved themselves worthy against some of Division III's finest competition and had several players garner All-HCAC accolades, setting the bar high for upcoming 2010 season.
The Beavers return a number of players that not only made their marks in the Bluffton record books, but garnered recognition conference-wide. Senior Shauna Rowland (Bucyrus/Wynford) took home the HCAC's top award as she was dubbed the league's Most Valuable Player. Junior outside hitters Nicole Wood (Tiffin/Hopewell Loudon) and Jenna Eshleman (Landisville, Penn./Hempfield) were also named to the HCAC First Team. Sophomore Brooke Distel (Carey) was recognized for her contributions on the hardwood as she was named to the All-Freshmen Team. The Beavers earned praise for their hard work in the classroom as well. Returners Courtney Zimmerman (Leesburg/Fairfield) and Eshleman earned HCAC All-Academic honors, and with a team GPA of 3.1, Eshleman, Rowland, Zimmerman, Distel, and senior Mandi Leemaster (Fremont/Old Fort) were also named to the Dean's list.
While the Beavers said goodbye to seniors Michele Rosen, Brittany Roth, and Brittany Duff, a veteran nucleus of returners are back on the court for the Beavers with all six starters returning. Senior setter Shauna Rowland, the HCAC's MVP last season, will anchor Bluffton's offensive effort for her final campaign. Allison Streicher (Continental), a senior opposite hitter, will also reprise her versatile role on the team for her final season. In regards to this year's senior class, Yarnell noted, "I am looking forward to seeing our seniors provide mentorship to our underclassmen this year."
Dominating the front lines for the Beavers are middle blockers Heather Rodman (Mansfield/Mansfield Christian) and Zimmerman, who combined for 144 block assists last year. Eshleman and Wood, juniors that served as the Beavers' outside hitting duo last year, will also look to continue their offensive prowess. Senior defensive specialist Leemaster, sophomore middle blocker Distel, and sophomore transfer Heather Schierer (Crescent Springs, Ky./St. Henry) will also be looking to make significant contributions in the 2010 season.
A talented and well-rounded group of freshman will be joining the Bluffton volleyball squad this fall. Ashley Ames (West Unity/Hilltop), Alicia Wood (Cleveland Heights), Lindsey Krohn (Marysville, Ind./New Washington), Rachel Duncan (Northwood/Lake), Hailey Phillips (Malinta/Patrick Henry), Clarissa Pressley (Oak Harbor/Bettsville), and Bethany Behnfeldt (Napoleon) all seek to contribute to Bluffton's success.
The Beavers will once again face tough competition as they continue to seek out the region's most competitive opponents. Not only do the Beavers face a challenging HCAC schedule this year, but they will also match up against some indubitably strong non-conference competition. "I feel we have put together a formidable schedule that will pit us against some of the strongest Division III teams in the country. This schedule is important to prepare us for HCAC play," Yarnell stated. Bluffton's schedule indeed has been jam packed with quality opponents, including six squads that made the 2009 NCAA tournament as well as a number of other teams that were regionally ranked last season.
Coach Yarnell, the reigning HCAC Coach of the Year, also went on to note that because of his team's eagerness in off-season workouts, he feels that this group is in a position to establish itself amongst the region's top contenders. "We were able to figure out how to finish opponents off last year and were probably overlooked by some opponents. Now that the program has started crafting a name for itself, we need to make sure to take a focused approach to each match." Another unique weapon that Bluffton has in its arsenal is the Beavers' home court advantage they have been building since their 2008 breakthrough season as they now sit at an impressive 18-1 in Founders Hall over the past two years. They look to continue that trend when they welcome another group of opponents to Founders this fall.
Bluffton opens its title-defending season at home against the Adrian College Bulldogs on September 1 at 7 p.m. Come out and support the Beavers in Founders Hall.