COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Finding freshmen with talent is difficult enough. Finding two that can make an immediate impact on your team is bordering on the impossible.
As the Lipscomb Lady Bisons volleyball team prepares for Thursday's NCAA Tournament first round match here against host Texas A & M coach Brandon Rosenthal will be counting on a pair of freshmen, outside hitter Lauren Ford and middle blocker Jewell Dobson, to make an impact.
Rosenthal is not surprised that the duo has stepped up so quickly. Due to injuries he had no choice but to give them ample playing time and the team was rewarded due to Rosenthal making the gamble.
"We knew Lauren was very capable of not only making a difference on our team but make a difference in the conference," Rosenthal said. "When we saw her play on the first day of practice there was a little bit of a sigh of relief. We could tell. how powerful she was."
Rosenthal also knew Dobson was talented, but that playing middle blocker was a more difficult challenge than Ford faced on the outside.
"We knew that Jewell hit the slide extremely well, but we really weren't sure about her," Rosenthal said. "It was matter of whether she could pick up the other things. We were pleasantly surprised at how fast Jewell has picked up the nuances of the game."
"Jewell started making her move a little bit later than Lauren, and rightfully so. Not to take away from the outside position, but middle blocker is a little bit more dynamic. There is so much more movement in the middle."
Rosenthal has watched Dobson become one of the most athletic players on the team.
"We discovered her natural athletic ability to play the game...not just her position," Rosenthal said. "We have tried to empower her to understand it is not just the middle blocker position, but the game of volleyball. She is really good."
Ford, who played on a national championship club team, has shown a strong aggressiveness in matches that began with her college debut.
"I've always been coached since I started out in volleyball to go after everything as hard as you can," Ford said. "When you don't necessarily have the best spot you can power through people to make the play."
Rosenthal knew Ford was an aggressive player, but he possibly been more impressed with her work ethic.
"Throughout the year she has been the first one in the gym and the last to leave," Rosenthal said. "She is always asking for more reps.
"She is a starter. She has earned her position. I want her to go for it on the court."
Ford wasn't sure how she would fit into the team. She has been a part of a strong quartet at the top of the team's kill stats along with Dobson, Kaycee Green and Katie Rose.
"In July when I came to school I didn't expect to be a standout player. But we have multiple good players that have sent the stats really high. That is why we are a good team."
Dobson really stepped up when Atlantic Sun Conference play began. She found that the speed of the game was much faster on the college level.
"I didn't know that I would be making such a big contribution but I am glad that I am," Dobson said. "I have learned a lot and become a stronger player.
"It is a much faster game. I have felt myself becoming faster with each game. I am making quicker decisions on short notice. It has become more of a matter of instinct."
Rosenthal recruited Ford and Dobson because of their talent but after three weeks of the season he realized they could be something special.
Rosenthal has five freshmen making their debuts in the NCAA Tournament. This is the program's third straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament and the fourth in five years. He has not dwelled on the issue with any of his players.
"I think it is just more exciting," Ford said. "Of course, being a freshman, I am maybe a little bit nervous. But we work so well together. I'm excited to see what we can do."
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.