2012 Butler Volleyball
The First Serve
The 38th season of Butler volleyball will begin this weekend in Chicago, as the Bulldogs play Indiana State, Eastern Illinois and DePaul at the DePaul Invitational. The weekend in the Windy City begins Butler's quest for a fifth straight winning season.
Four starters and the libero return for Butler, which will be playing its first season as a member of the Atlantic 10 Conference. The Bulldogs won the 2010 Horizon League tourney and placed third in the Horizon last year before moving on to the new league.
The strength of this year's team is in the middle. Butler is led by 2011 All-Horizon League middle blocker Maggie Harbison, who was among the HL's leaders in blocks and aces last year. She was an all-newcomer pick in 2010 as a freshman. Harbison is joined by fellow junior Claire Randich, who missed time due to injury last season.
On the outside, Butler has senior Rachel Barber and sophomores Kelly Kyle and Belle Obert. All three players saw extensive action last season. Ond defense in the back, sophomores Brooke Ruffolo and Jadyn Yarling return after gaining experience as freshmen.
BU is a combined 34-19 all-time against this weekend's three opponents. Butler is 16-6 all-time against Indiana State and 11-6 vs. Eastern Illinois. The Bulldogs are 7-7 in 14 meetings against DePaul.
TWIN TOWERS: Juniors Maggie Harbison and Claire Randich are entering their third year starting in the middle for Butler. Harbison was an All-Horizon League selection last year after recording 1.95 kills, 1.16 blocks and 0.33 aces per set. She was second in the conference in blocks per set and third in the league in aces per set. Randich missed the early part of last season before rounding into form in October. She posted a career-high 11 blocks vs. Valparaiso and seven stuffs against Cleveland State last season.
BU ALL-TIME vs. THIS WEEK: Butler is a combined 34-19 against Indiana State (16-6), Eastern Illinois (11-6) and DePaul (7-7). BU's last meeting against the Blue Demons came in 2006, a 3-1 DePaul victory. Butler swept both Indiana State and Eastern Illinois in 2009.
NEW COACHES: Butler hired a completely new staff this offseason, adding Lenika Vazquez and Camille Gutierrez to the staff. In addition, former Indiana player Ivie Obeime has signed on as director of operations.
FAMILIAR FACE: Assistant coach Camille Gutierrez may know a thing or two about Indiana State. She coaches at ISU from 2009-11.
LIBERO SOPHOMORES: The youth of the team lies in the DS/L position, where three sophomores and a freshman will play this year. Brooke Ruffolo, a 2011 Horizon League All-Newcomer Team pick, and Jadyn Yarling played extensively as freshmen. Ruffolo averaged 4.44 digs per set last year. Sophomore Christina Saenger and freshman Natalie Meert are also capable players at the position.
FOUR STRAIGHT WINNERS: Butler has posted a winning record in each of the past four years. The run of success started in 2008, when BU went 19-11. BU won 21 matches in 2009 and 2010 before a 16-14 season with a young team last year.
NEW SETTERS: Perhaps Butler's biggest impact transfer in the offseason was Morgan Peterson, who will start at setter for the Dawgs. Peterson comes to BU after playing two seasons at Middle Tennessee State, where she totaled 1,493 assists and a .214 hitting percentage. She helped the Blue Raiders to a conference title in 2011. In addition, Butler added freshman Natalie Wichern, who sat out most of the preseason with an injury.
JOLIET NATIVE: This weekend's trip to DePaul gives Claire Randich a chance to play near her hometown. Randich played at Joliet Catholic Academy. Randich is the only Illinois native on the roster.
LEAVING THE LEAGUE: The 2012 season is BU's first in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Butler went 34-14 and won a league tournament title during its last three Horizon League campaigns. That includes a 13-3 record in 2010 and an 11-5 mark last year.
AT DEPAUL: Butler is 2-1 all-time at DePaul. After losing at DU in 1984, the Bulldogs won at DePaul in 1988 and 1990.
NEXT WEEK: Butler will play three matches at Pittsburgh's Panther Invitational Aug. 31-Sept. 1. The Bulldogs will play Howard, Coastal Carolina and Pittsburgh.