Ball ‘so ready’ to play volleyball
Outside hitter healthy after 2012 knee injury
Casey Ball was the hitter the Colorado Mesa University volleyball team needed last year, but 10 matches into the season the Mavericks lost her to a season-ending knee injury.
The Mavericks, who were 8-2 when she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, went downhill from there, finishing 17-11 and losing in the first round of the RMAC tournament.
She led Mesa in kills the first two weeks of the season.
Ball, a Missouri Southern transfer, played too many matches last season to get a medical redshirt season, but the junior returns to a more mature Colorado Mesa team ready to make strides in the RMAC this season.
“I’m so ready,” Ball said. “I felt like (the injury) made me a stronger player. It made me more mentally tough. When I’m practicing I don’t take little things for granted. I’m not, ‘Oh, I’m tired. I don’t want to go to practice.’ I’m like, ‘I can’t wait to go to practice today.’ “
CMU coach Dave Fleming said it’s great to have Ball back.
“She’s not 100 percent yet, but we expected that coming back from an ACL,” he said. “If we can get her to 80 percent by the first tournament, that will be good for us. She’s getting there.”
Ball won’t have to carry the load. Christian Otzen returns after leading the Mavericks in kills last season.
The sophomore from Flagstaff, Ariz., made a tough decision to leave Mesa after last season and return home to be closer to her mother, Danette, who was diagnosed with breast cancer. She enrolled at Northern Arizona University and walked on to the volleyball team.
“It was the hardest thing I ever had to do was going in and telling the team and Coach of my decision,” Otzen said. “Family always comes first in my eyes.”
Danette Otzen’s health improved so much through the spring and summer that she went back to work. She had her first checkup since completing her treatment and was cancer-free, Christian said.
Christian decided to return to Colorado Mesa, but she had to get permission from the NCAA to play for the Mavericks. Normally, four-year college transfers must sit out one season in such a situation, but the NCAA granted Otzen permission to play this fall.
“It was tough,” Otzen said. “It was a decision I didn’t want to have to make ... but I think it was the right thing to do. Thankfully it all worked out. That was a little stressful.”
Palisade High School graduate Audrey Steinkirchner is expected to handle more workload on the right side, and junior Melissa Hess gives Fleming some experience in the middle.
“I think we’re a little more balanced than last year,” Fleming said. “We won’t need (Ball) as much, but it’s going to be nice to know she’s there.”
Leanndra Gilbert joins the volleyball team this season after playing on the NCAA national-tournament-qualifying basketball team last year. She will line up at outside hitter.
“She’s physically very gifted, but she hasn’t played competitive volleyball for four years,” Fleming said. “She’s getting more and more comfortable there every day and feels more part of the team now. She might not make an immediate impact for us, but you could see her later in the year playing front row.”
Outside hitters Haleigh Higgins and Rebecca Sellers are no longer with the team, Fleming said.
“I’m really excited about this year,” Ball said. “We’re already at a higher point than at this time last year ... in every aspect, really. ... We’re all on the same page. It’s looking up.”
The outside hitters will have Jordyn Moody back to set them up. The junior averaged 8.27 assists per set last season.
Fleming’s biggest concern is replacing All-RMAC libero Megan Rush. Behind Rush, the Mavericks led the RMAC in digs per set (16.44), and Rush had an RMAC-best five digs per set average. The Mavericks limited their opponents to a .154 hitting percentage.
Team captain Sunni Rae Baird, the only senior, junior Tiffany Petersen and redshirt freshman Kricket Adleman will see time at libero this season.
“She was not only a good defender and passer but a good leader,” Fleming said of Rush. “There are kids with ability on this team. They just haven’t been there and done that.”