Ball ‘so ready’ to play volleyball

Outside hitter healthy after 2012 knee injury

Outside hitter Casey Ball returns this season for the Colorado Mesa University volleyball team after recovering from a knee injury early last fall. Ball tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in the 10th match of the season, but said the injury made her mentally stronger. The junior was the leading hitter for the Mavericks when she was injured.

Colorado Mesa University outside hitter Christian Otzen left the team after last season to be closer to her mother, who is recovering from breast cancer. She enrolled at Northern Arizona, but with her mother’s health improved, Otzen returned to CMU.


Key Returning Players

Casey Ball, jr., outside hitter — Led Mesa in kills before a season-ending injury in the third week of the season

Jordyn Moody, jr., setter — Averaged 8.27 assists per set

Christian Otzen, soph., outside hitter — Led team with 271 kills last season as a freshman

Sunni Rae Baird, sr., libero — Played 42 sets and had 54 digs last year

Rough RMAC Road

Colorado Mesa has a tough stretch in its schedule in mid-October when it faces four of the five NCAA tournament qualifiers from the RMAC between 
Oct. 18-26.

The Mavs visit Colorado School of Mines and Colorado Christian on 
Oct. 18-19, then host Regis, the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs and Metro State on Oct. 24-26.

Regis is the favorite to win the RMAC. Metro State is picked second, and 11th-ranked Mines received two first-place votes and was picked to finish third. UCCS is picked to tie Mesa for seventh place in the RMAC.

Despite the preseason voting, CMU coach Dave Fleming said, “I think this is an NCAA team on paper, but just like everybody else, you’ve got to prove it.”

The Mavericks open the season this weekend at the Angelo State Invitational, where they will play two NCAA qualifiers from last season, Arkansas-Fort Smith and Angelo State.

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.”


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