Bella Kuechenberg is returning home and back to the sport she loves.
The former Bishop Noll standout nearly walked away from volleyball last year after she arrived at Florida International to begin her collegiate beach volleyball career. After some soul-searching, and a well-placed call from Indiana Northwest coach Brian Erminger, Kuechenberg is coming home to play indoors for the RedHawks.
“I’m so excited to be coming home and to get the chance to play volleyball again,” Kuechenberg said. “Being away from home, not being able to see my family, it was really hard for me.”
Kuechenberg struggled to connect with the coaching staff and her teammates at Florida International. And moving from playing both indoor and beach volleyball to just beach was an adjustment that Kuechenberg didn’t enjoy. The former Times First Team All-Area selection left FIU before the season began and she never logged a minute of action for the Golden Panthers.
“I’ve always played both (indoor and beach) at the same time, and only doing one of them, it just wasn’t the same,” Kuechenberg said. “It’s different sports and I just got burnt out of it. I’ll probably still play beach for fun, but playing indoor is what I really love.”
Kuechenberg was ready to be done with volleyball until she received a phone call from Erminger earlier this year. The RedHawks set numerous program records last season, winning a school-best 27 games and earning their first trip to the NAIA National Tournament. Former Portage standout Emileishka De Jesus was named Association of Independent Institutions' Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year, while Erminger was named Coach of the Year in his first season with the RedHawks.
"After one year here, I knew that we were missing another De Jesus," Erminger said. "We were missing a six-rotation player who is great in the back row. When we got word that Bella was coming back home, I wanted to be the first to reach out to her."
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It wasn't an immediate easy sell. Kuechenberg was ready to walk away from the sport she fell in love with at a young age.
“When I came home, I was done with volleyball. I wanted to start something new," Kuechenberg said. "Then I talked with Brian and we really hit it off. I know some of the girls on the team.”
The RedHawks recently signed Bishop Noll product Mary Markusic. Kuechenberg’s former travel teammate, setter Maddie Maatman, will be a junior for IU-Northwest this coming season. The pair played together for Ignite Elite.
“The volleyball world is small,” Kuechenberg said. “You hear names of people. Everyone has been so nice so far. I’m really excited.”
Having left Florida International before the season began, Kuechenberg expects to have four seasons of immediate eligibility for the RedHawks. While she understands there is a difference between NCAA Division I and NAIA, she’s not concerned about how that will impact her approach to the game.
“At first, it was something that I thought about, going from D-I to NAIA, but then I realized that volleyball is volleyball no matter where you play,” Kuechenberg said. “What matters is where you fit in and where you feel comfortable.”