The Lady Bisons volleyball team took its first official steps towards returning to the NCAA Tournament with practices Saturday and Sunday and three-a-day session Monday.
Tuesday was reserved for a workout in addition to team pictures. Wednesday the Lady Bisons are expected to get a well-deserved day off.
“I have been pleased with our intensity and the defensive quickness on the court,” said Lady Bisons coach Brandon Rosenthal. “I was pleased with the way we finished the three sessions Monday.
“We talked about finishing what we start. When we get a lead we have to finish that. When we build momentum we have to finish it and push it over the edge. It is long preseason. We try not to get too high or too low.”
Rosenthal, whose team won the Atlantic Sun Tournament last season, advancing to the program’s first ever berth in the NCAA Tournament, has welcomed four newcomers - middle blocker Katie Rose, setter Jenny Brekke, defensive specialist-libero Elly Kaiser and middle blocker Kelsey Neumann.
“Monday was a long day by design,” Rosenthal said. ‘Preseason is a test mentally and physically. For the new players it kind of gives them a glimpse of what the season is all about. They are still getting to know each other.
“We are getting to that stage where they are getting comfortable with each other and getting comfortable with some of the things we are doing. We have really worked hard to do some different things this year.”
Rosenthal wants to stress the need to work hard, but he also knows that preseason can be a long process. Rosenthal, along with assistant coaches Ann Mullins and Samantha Sullivan, has developed a practice plan that he hopes will provide some fun along with the hard work.
“Right now, we are saying we are always evolving,” Rosenthal said. “Sam, Ann and I have worked hard to create a different preseason atmosphere. We want it to be fresh.”
Rosenthal is pointing out mistakes that are being made. He rates many of those miscues as “positive” mistakes.
“That is one of the philosophies that has changed quite a bit over the past five or six years,” Rosenthal said. “They are going to make mistakes. There is no need to hound them. They know they made them.
“I want them to make those mistakes trying some new things and different techniques and skills we have been working on. Now is the time for them to push themselves and work outside the box.”
The newcomers are being tested early, but Rosenthal has been pleased with their attitudes and their intensity.
Rose has already seen time at outside hitter, middle blocker and the right side.
“Katie has done a fabulous job,” Rosenthal said. “She has gone out and worked hard at all three. She is going to be one of those players who is going to have a chance to get into games because of her versatility.”
Kaiser, a sophomore transfer from Illinois State, is in a battle with senior Jessica Turner and sophomore Brittany Simmons for playing time at defensive specialist and the libero spots.
“Elly has to get back to the things we do that are a little different than the way things were done at Illinois State,” Rosenthal said.
However, Brekke may face the biggest challenge. She has to quickly learn every play and where every player will be on the court at any given time.
“Jenny has to know all of the plays,” Rosenthal said. “And at the same time she has to understand what the hitter wants and what sets to make. She is a little quiet right now. But the verbal communication is going to happen.”
Neumann, 6-foot-3, is the tallest player ever signed by the Lipscomb volleyball program. She is going to be counted on to make a major contribution to the team.
“Kelsey has done some great stuff on the court,” Rosenthal said. ‘We are trying to get her to understand that this is another level of competition.
“She is a very happy person. We want her to be happy, but we want her to score and get a little mean sometimes.”