A victory over Hanover College in the Heartland Conference tournament propelled the Bluffton University volleyball team into the HCAC semi-finals for the sixth straight time in 2018. Bluffton won four consecutive HCAC tourney titles from 2013-16 as the Beavers have advanced to conference title match six times during the past decade!
With year 15 just around the corner, Head Coach Steve Yarnell has guided the Beavers to the Heartland Conference tournament 11 straight times, including 10 appearances in the semifinals and five trips to the NCAA Tournament! Bluffton will be without a pair of First Team All-HCAC honorees in Erin Weisgarber and Bethany Martini, but Weisgarber, the all-time leader in assists and the Kathryn E. Little Award winner, is taking her talents and knowledge to the bench where she is in her first year as a graduate assistant for the Beavers!
Senior Carley Lester (Chesapeake) along with juniors Remi Bower (Deshler/Patrick Henry) and Sarah Heydinger (Tiro/Buckeye Central) give the Beavers a formidable front line with considerable experience at the net. Bower was second for Bluffton, behind two-time First Team All-HCAC selection Bethany Martini, with 210 kills. Heydinger and Lester combined for almost 200 kills as well.
Brooke Kleman (Ottawa/Ottawa-Glandorf) wasted little time taking over as Bluffton's starting libero during her initial campaign and she made that move pay immediate dividends with Honorable Mention and All-Freshman Heartland Conference recognition following a season in which she picked up 5.12 digs per set. Junior Jessica Lovell (Grove City) and sophomore Maddie White (Ashland) saw significant action in 2018. Lovell took advantage of her time on the outside, while White showed her versatility as a setter and hitter, leading Bluffton to a crucial five-set victory over Mount St. Joseph when Weisgarber went down with an injury.
With the graduation of eight seniors who finished their academic and athletic endeavors at Bluffton University, the team will look to continue the competitive legacy established here. "Fourteen years ago I thought you could build a contender over time and have a legitimate shot in year four or five to compete for a conference title before hitting a reset button and starting the process over again," stated Coach Yarnell. "What I have learned is as you build the culture you want and surround yourself with people that are eager to uphold and contribute to the culture, you don't rebuild, you reload. We will feature one of the younger teams in terms of varsity competition experience going into the fall, but hope the blueprint of putting a challenging schedule together will benefit a relatively green roster. I am excited to see how the team evolves and prepares each day with the goal of a 12th consecutive HCAC tournament berth and ultimately a run at the HCAC championship."
Coach Yarnell will host heavyweights from the OAC, the PAC and the HCAC when the 7th annual Sommer Center Spiketacular takes center stage on September 6-7 following a trip to Holland Mich. for the Hope College Tournament on August 30-31. The Beavers will also battle national heavyweight Calvin College at Trine University on September 21. Bluffton will make weekend trips to Wooster and Heidelberg before kicking off Heartland Conference action at Earlham on Saturday, Oct. 5.