VALPARAISO | From shy freshman to spirited sophomore, Valparaiso’s Kate Bontrager has undergone quite the change in the last year.
Trying to break onto a varsity team that was filled with upperclassmen was a challenge for the middle hitter, but Bontrager believes that challenge prepared her for a successful sophomore campaign this season.
The Vikings are hoping to continue that season when they host LaPorte in the first round of the Valparaiso Sectional on Thursday evening. The Slicers swept Valparaiso in the regular season.
“I’m very timid and shy, especially if you don’t know me,” Bontrager said. “It was nerve-wracking last year, but now I’ve come out of my shell. I feel like I’m more of a leader now.”
With her shyness closing her off to her older teammates, the other issue was that Bontrager was the only underclassmen on the team last season. Further adding to her uneasiness was that three seniors were playing on the front line, leaving very few opportunities.
“There is no doubt that Kate has the physical abilities,” Valparaiso coach Katie Lenard said. “She had quite a gap, but with some friends on the team, she’s done a really nice job in opening up.”
Replacing the production of Brigid Scannel as well as twins Sara and Carrie Clark wasn’t going to be easy, but Bontrager and transfer Noelle Eveland have been up to the task this season. Both players have become go-to hitters for the Vikings.
“We talked a bit about (replacing the seniors), but we didn’t want to put any pressure on Kate,” Lenard said. “We wanted her to find her own place. She’s been playing for a long time and has a lot of determination. She wants to be the best that she can be.”
Being the best has meant long hours working on her game away from the practice court. Although she doesn’t play all-around this season, Bontrager has worked tirelessly on serving. If she isn’t on the floor, she’s watching film of old games, anything to gain an edge on the court.
“Everything has been about preparing myself for this season and now the postseason,” Bontrager said. “This means so much for me and the seniors.”
Bontrager is forever grateful to the four seniors who were on Valparaiso’s sectional championship team last season, but there is definitely a drive to match what they accomplished. It’s possibly what drove Bontrager out of her shell.
“I play for me, but I’m playing for the seniors as well,” Bontrager said. “Some of them will never play volleyball again after this and I want it to keep going for them. We want to prove that while we lost some great players, we can still be as good as we were last season.”
The Vikings will get a great chance to prove that on Thursday night against the DAC champion Slicers.