Northern Colorado Volleyball Returns Experienced Players, Has Early Advantage

With less than two weeks left until the University of Northern Colorado takes the field for its regular season, and the Bears are looking for another Big Sky title.

UNC lost three veteran players to graduation and one to a larger program, but it’s still expected to be one of the best teams in the league. Despite the losses, head coach Lyndsey Oates fires 11 players. Of the ghosts, nine are juniors or older.

Oates said earlier this summer that the biggest area he will need is in the defensive specialist role. Kyndall Feather and Laura Katarzynski ended their careers with the Bears last year and usually acted as liberos, but the team should have what it takes to handle their departures.

Here are some ratings and players to watch as UNC begins its journey to a seventh conference championship.

Outside hitters

UNC has one of the greatest experiences in the outside hitter role. He returns a team of veterans to the position, including grad student Kailey Jo Ince, senior Makenzie Harris, senior Rachel Hickman, and sophomore Annette Baker.

The four amassed nearly 2,100 kills during their time with UNC. Ince leads with 1,071 kills in four seasons with the Bears. She is expected to climb in the all-time rankings and could end up in the top 5 in the program’s Division I.

Harris, an Eaton graduate, and Hickman combined over 900 kills with the Bears. Hickman was the 2020 Big Sky Newcomer of the Year and a 2021 All-Conference First Team selection, while Harris was the 2021 Big Sky Tournament MVP.

Baker has a smaller sample size than others but finished last season with 69 kills in 40 sets. Her best game came last September when she had 15 kills against North Dakota. Baker struggled with consistency last year, but she can be a big boost to the already impressive offense if she can cut through some of the mistakes.

Syd Cole, setter

Cole entered the roster midway through last season, mostly replacing veteran Daisy Schultz. The Bears needed more size and Cole found a rhythm.

She praised Schultz’s mentorship last season, noting that much of his success and growth is due to the guidance and general support of his older counterpart. Cole had 143 digs and a team-high 683 assists.

Michaela Boon, defensive specialist

Boon is expected to be one of Feather and Katarzynski’s replacements. In his three years with UNC, Boon recorded nearly 200 digs and 46 service aces.

She will join junior Bronwyn Temperley as the likely two main liberos. Both played behind the former Bears and have experience as a defensive specialist.

Rachel Greek, defensive specialist

Greek is a freshman, and while she’s not expected to play much as DS, she’s definitely someone to watch.

The rookie comes to Greeley from Castle Rock, where she logged more than 900 digs during her high school career with just 80 errors. The Greek also had 148 serving aces and 58 assists.

Finally, she was a member of the Colorado Juniors club team and won the Crossroad Club tournament, one of the largest in the country.

An early advantage

If anyone missed it, UNC headed to Europe in June for a cultural and sports trip. It was an opportunity for the team to discover other cultures and to play against international teams.

Northern Colorado went 3-1, although Oates thought they could have been 4-0. The trip allowed the team to participate in games and practices, which are usually not allowed at this stage of the offseason. Oates said it gave staff a chance to assess players, advise them on areas for improvement and build chemistry much earlier than normal.

Oates signed a five-year contract extension this summer and is set to be on the program for a while. After winning multiple conference titles, the Bears still need the elusive NCAA Tournament victory. He’s been to the tournament several times, but he hasn’t made it out of the first round yet.

UNC will host an exhibition at 6 p.m. Friday against Denver. The regular season and the title race will begin at 6 p.m. on August 26, when UC Santa-Barbara arrives in town.

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