JIMMY LAFAKIS | STAFF REPORTER | email@example.com
The news broke on Aug. 2. That day, the Butler volleyball team learned they were picked second in the Big East preseason poll. The Bulldogs are not focused on expectations. They are focused on results.
“We’ve just got a good spirit about us,” head coach Sharon Clark said. “We’ve got some tremendous athletes, and the girls are working super hard. We always look forward to the season, but I think this one will be a special one for us.”
Butler finished 20-14 (9-9 Big East) and posted an 11-5 record at Hinkle Fieldhouse. The Bulldogs boasted a nine-game winning streak during the nonconference portion of their schedule and finished fifth in the conference. The Big East tournament was held at Hinkle, but the home team narrowly missed a postseason berth.
They are 3-1 to open the 2017 season after hosting the inaugural Bulldog Brawl Aug. 25.
Senior Makayla Ferguson posted 261 digs and 1,186 assists during Butler’s last campaign. She said she will take it upon herself to lead this year.
“With this group of freshmen, I think we have some really good chemistry going on right now,” she said. “The ranking is a really big weight on our shoulders, but I’m really excited to own up to that and show the Big East what we are.”
The veteran setter was Big East Freshman of the Year in 2014 and posted twelve double-doubles last season. Ferguson also recorded a season-high 58 assists against Gonzaga last year and now serves as the only senior on the squad.
“I remember my first day here like it was yesterday,” Ferguson said. “But I love it. I love seeing the freshmen come in and guiding them through preseason.”
Freshman outside hitter Natalie Ravenell and freshman middle blocker Rachel Klitzing were both nominated to the Bulldog Brawl All-Tournament Team Aug. 26. Clark said she was impressed with how the young players adjusted to the college game.
“They got out there and did their thing,” Clark said. “I think the biggest thing was they came through in key points in matches. They came through and got us a stop or a point, which was great.”
The team also welcomes newcomers in freshmen middle blockers Melody Davidson, Bailey Foy and junior transfer Rachel Schultz. Foy posted 13 kills and three digs in the Bulldog Brawl, while Schultz played seven sets and added three digs during the tournament. Schultz transferred from Lake Land College in Mattoon, Illinois.
Junior libero Taylor Takeda, who arrived on campus last fall after transferring from Dowling College, played in all 131 sets of Butler’s 34 matches and added 540 digs last season. The Hawaii native became the team’s permanent libero last season and was named team captain alongside junior outside hitter Anna Logan.
During the preseason, Clark asked Takeda and Logan if they were willing to be captains.
“Obviously, we both said yes,” Takeda said. “It means so much to me, for my coach to believe that I can be a good leader for the team and for her to trust me and Anna with that.”
Most of Butler’s nonconference schedule is on the road, as the Bulldogs play only two more games at Hinkle before Big East play begins against Marquette University on Sept. 20. The Golden Eagles finished in third place in the Big East preseason poll, falling just four points behind Butler. Takeda said the nonconference portion gives the team a chance to work on team chemistry before conference matches.
“We can work out the kinks before it comes to Creighton and Marquette and the bigger teams in our conference,” Takeda said. “It helps us work on every aspect of our games.”
Butler will also look to Logan, a 2016 American Volleyball Coaches Association Honorable Mention All-American, to produce during conference play. Logan led both Butler and the Big East with 578 kills last season, a total that placed ninth nationally. She also earned a first team All-Big East selection last year.
The Bulldogs will face reigning Big East champion Creighton University on Oct. 17 in Omaha, Nebraska and on Nov. 12 in Indianapolis. The Bluejays, who were picked first in the preseason poll, made it to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight before losing to the University of Texas in the three-set Regional Final.
Senior leadership is critical in trying times, and the Bulldogs will rely on their lone senior to assist them.
“My big thing about leading is leading by example,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off in practice every day. In games, I try to be vocal and just really work hard so they can follow me.”
The Bulldogs will continue their campaign in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when they square off against the University of Michigan on Friday at 7:30 p.m.