The young team shows its strength with a 9-6 record
Sports | Michael Whartnaby for The Clarion
Senior Caitie Helle executes a spike against St. Olaf on Sept. 12. The Onamia, Minn. native has recorded 172 kills this year. | Courtesy of Bethel Sports Information
For a team that has big shoes to fill, upperclassman leadership and toughness have helped pave the way for Bethel volleyball this year. After a hot 9-3 start, the players and head coach Gretchen Hunt have set the pace for the rest of the season.
Hunt, who is in her 11th year of leading the team, reached a milestone early in the season against Martin Luther College during the Bethel Invitational -- winning her 200th career match. Her career record is now 204-151, giving her a win percentage of .569.
Although team dynamics have changed from last year, Hunt still expects the upperclassmen to lead the team and set an example for the younger girls. She credits seniors Amy Baumetz, Caitie Helle, Val Smith and junior Rachel Bloom for demonstrating the toughness she preaches.
“I want our players to get a little grit when things go bad,” said Hunt.
That grit showed when sophomore setter Cierra Nickel went down with an injury right before a road match at Concordia. Needing to fill the void, Hunt called on defensive specialist Bloom to step into a position she had never played before.
“I wasn’t totally blindsided by it,” said Bloom. “And I definitely felt comfortable.”
The Royals lost the close match against Concordia and went on to drop another to St. Olaf, but despite these conference losses, the team is working hard to demonstrate the toughness their coach desires.
As a testament to the team’s depth, the freshmen have been adjusting well to the higher level of competition and are proving to be assets on the court.
“The freshmen have to take on a big role and are filling big shoes,” said Bloom. “I know they will be tough.”
This year the freshman players represent seven states outside of Minnesota, which is something the team has never experienced before.
“All of the freshmen are really competitive,” said Hunt. “Adjusting to college isn’t always easy, but they have come in and competed.”
The team’s goal is to focus on winning each game one-by-one and to display fierce determination as MIAC competition begins to heat up. With a 0-3 record in conference play, the Royals will have to give their all in every game if they want to return to the playoffs.
Only the top six teams advance to the highly competitive conference playoffs, so when it comes to qualifying, every match matters.
Hunt can tell the players what they need to do, but they understand that it is up to them to execute it.
“Gretchen brings intensity and a sense of urgency,” said Bloom. “But she can’t put that in us. We have to bring that ourselves.”