However, replacing that one missing starter will be crucial because it happens to be All-American Jill Odenthal.
Odenthal, the team’s starting opposite hitter for the past three seasons, was one of the most consistent players in UW history. A steady left-handed hitter, she finished her college career with 1,165 kills and a career hitting percentage of .298, good for eighth and fourth, respectively, in the Wisconsin record books.
Head coach Pete Waite has looked for a replacement at opposite hitter ever since Odenthal’s departure, auditioning a number of players at the position during the spring season, including redshirt freshman Audra Jeffers, junior Amy Bladow and even sliding senior Aubrey Meierotto, over from the other side of the court.
As of now, it appears Waite has settled on the tandem of Jeffers starting in Odenthal’s opposite-hitter spot, with Bladow stepping in to relieve her. Though much less experienced, both Jeffers and Bladow stand 6-foot-2, as opposed to Odenthal’s 6-foot stature.
“[Odenthal] just had a great knack for scoring,” Waite said. “Being a leftie, also, that’s one thing that’s different — the ball coming out different from a left hander’s shots — but then again, we add Audra Jeffers or Amy Bladow in there and we’re bigger, so we’re a bigger blocking team. [Odenthal] did some great things, but I think some new people are stepping in there and we’ll do really well.”
Jeffers brings with her a great resume. She was all-state as a senior at Hartland Arrowhead High School and earned a spot in PrepVolleyball.com’s Top 100 Senior Aces. However, she will have a lot of adjustments to make in her first year of collegiate play after redshirting last season.
While she may have itched to get out on the court last year, Jeffers learned plenty from the sidelines and used the opportunity to prepare herself for the physical rigors of a full NCAA season.
“[My redshirt experience] was really interesting,” Jeffers said. “I had weight-lifting an extra day a week, and it was really just to get stronger for the season, so it was just a really good learning experience.”
Now Jeffers faces the challenge of stepping into the position of not only a standout player in Odenthal, but a mentor.
“She was a great model. I learned everything from her,” Jeffers said. “She’s a great blocker. She reads the hitter really well and takes away the one-on-ones. I just really looked up to her a lot.”
As much pressure as there may be to replace one of the steadiest players in UW history, Jeffers revels in the opportunity to fill Odenthal’s shoes and help out a talented Badger squad.
“[There’s] not so much pressure (in replacing Odenthal) — just excitement to be out there and to show everyone what I can do,” Jeffers said. “The team has been really supportive of me.”