2015 MIAC Volleyball Camp Tour- Saint Benedict

By Kelsey Whaley
Six schools in six days! It’s been a crazy, fun first few days on the Volleyball Camp Tour. I’ve seen scrimmages, practices, warm ups, and, knock on wood, no injuries. I hoped to keep that streak alive when I stopped in to see a morning practice at the College of Saint Benedict.

Saint Ben’s finished third in the MIAC last season but lost seven seniors to graduation in the spring. They have a new line up with new faces on the court, but that won’t deter them from continuing their streak as a tough opponent and top competitor in the MIAC. They may end up taking a tiny step back, tiny being the key word, but they are still a team opponents won’t be able to overlook.

There are six reasons why Saint Ben’s will still be a formidable force in the conference. They also happen to be my six observations from my day at Saint Ben’s practice:

  1. The head coach- The Blazers are lead by Nicole Hess, who is entering her sixth year as the head coach at Saint Ben’s. Coach Hess is very clear about what she wants out of the players in her program and the image she wants for Saint Ben’s volleyball. While she wants her
    Saint Ben's head coach Nicole Hess talks to players after
    practice on August 26. 
    players to have fun and enjoy the game, she also holds them to a high standard. She does not permit laziness or excuses on her court and the players have to earn their playing time. This type of leadership is good for a team made up of 11 underclassmen and 5 upperclassmen. It gives the players a strong sense of structure, and they know almost immediately what they are in for. Still, even with all those expectations, Coach Hess is able to facilitate a fun environment amongst players.
  2. Youths- If the 11-5 ratio wasn’t an indicator, the Blazers are a very young team. They have eight incoming freshman who all have a chance to see time on the court. These freshmen won’t sit out a year and learn the nuances of the program. They will be implanted in the starting lineups as well as the offensive and defensive scheme. Of course, they will go through growing pains, but this young core of volleyball players will make Saint Ben’s very very good in just a few short years.
  3. Sleepers- Because of their youth, other teams in the conference might think the Blazers have come down to earth for the 2015 season. However, Saint Ben’s is still a threat to take
    Sophomore setter Megan Pekarek makes a set during practice.
    Pekarek is new to Saint Ben's after spending her 2014 season
    with UW-Parkside. 
    the conference. Only time will tell if this holds true, but this team could very easily sneak in through the back door and surprise people during matches. They were picked to finish fourth in the conference, but it would be no surprise if they finished higher.
  4. Well Rounded- Saint Ben’s is very well rounded as a team. As I said earlier, they graduated seven seniors, including their libero, setter, middle blockers, and right side hitter. Coach Hess was able to bring in eight freshman and a transfer sophomore, a total to nine first year players for the Blazers. These new players can fill a variety of positions. Combined with the returners, Saint Ben’s has four defensive specialists, two setters, and a boatload of a hitters, all competing for a chance to play.
  5. Always moving- The Saint Ben’s players are constantly in motion, and only stop during team huddles. Even then they seem to be moving in some type of way. They never take a break
    Two defensive specialists wait for a serve during a drill.
    during drills. Their focus is 100% on volleyball, and if it’s not, Coach Hess calls them out on it. There is no room for the players to be distracted. For that reason, they are constantly moving from one drill to the next and constantly working to improve as a team.
  6. Strength of Schedule- The Blazers have one of the toughest schedules this season. They open against Northwestern, who received votes for the preseason rankings, before heading to Boston for a weekend tournament. Also, their conference opener is an away game against… St. Thomas. Saint Ben’s will know right away if they will be able to compete against not only the top teams in the conference, but in the nation as well.

There is a list worthy of the Oscars of people I need to thank for this trip. As always, thank you to Coach Hess and all the players of Saint Ben’s for letting me invade and sit in on their practice. Also, thank you to Saint Ben’s Sports Information Director Leah Rado for introducing me to the staff and showing me the ropes in the gym.

Saint Ben’s will open at home on September 17th against Northwestern (St. Paul).

Where to next?
Up next, I take a trip to St. Thomas, another team who is in a rebuilding year after 2014. The Tommies also lost several significant players to graduation and are looking to restock and reload for the 2015 season. From there, it's on to Gustavus for a look at one of their preseason practices.

Make sure to tune into Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, where I’ll be posting live from both St. Thomas and Gustavus. Also, make sure to check out Matt’s Football Camp Tour to read even more about your favorite MIAC programs!

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