Lakeview volleyball built a libero tradition over the past few years.
Mallory Gotschall held down the position for three years, led the team in digs as a junior and a senior and earned her way to becoming a current Central Raider. Mattie Purcell had just one year at libero a year ago, but amassed the fifth-highest dig total in the state according to stats from MaxPreps.com.
Through the first two weeks of the season, senior Becca Valdez has stepped in and kept the back row tradition going strong.
She's embracing a similar scenario as Purcell did a year ago when the 2019 graduate played just 24 sets her junior year before becoming a regular as a senior.
But even Purcell had twice as much experience to learn from, 24 sets to 10, than Valdez when she was a backup last season.
Thus, there was some anxiety that came to preseason fall practice. She's perhaps the perfect example of the 2019 team reduced down into one representative.
Valdez, and many of her teammates, came in less accomplished and less well-known than the large senior class of last season. But those no names are proving to be quite the fiesty bunch.
Lakeview sits 5-1 and ranked No. 9 in the latest Lincoln Journal Star Class C-1 ratings. Valdez and the Lady Vikes return to the court Saturday at the Boone Central Invitational.
"At first it was a little intimidating because there were so many (seniors from last year) that started," Valdez said. "As practice went on I think (this year's team) really became ‘our’ team. It’s a really solid team this year. I think we’re going to be really good."
Valdez ability to fill the role was no surprise to head coach K.C. Belitz.
He's seen many liberos come through Lakeview and built the tradition Valdez is now maintaining.
"We’ve had a really nice progression of liberos at Lakeview for several years now," he said. "As a coach, you love it when it works out that way. You have one senior, and then the next senior and the next senior. That’s kind of where we’ve been.
"Mattie Purcell last year filled the role really well and now it’s Becca’s turn, and next year it’s going to be somebody else’s turn. We hoped it was going to work out when Becca became a senior."
The Vikings are off to a hot start, sweeping York on Tuesday and advancing all the way to the finals of the Shamrock Invitational last weekend. Wins at Scotus included over D-1 No. 3 Hartington Cedar Catholic, C-2 No. 3 Wahoo Neumann then a close, three-set loss to the No. 4 Shamrocks.
The impressive start to the season isn't necessarily a surprise to Valdez. It is, maybe, a little bit ahead of schedule.
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"My expectations were very high coming in, and I'd say we've exceeded my expectations, having a 5-1 record this early in the season and doing this good."
So far in the season, Valdez has 98 digs and 100 serve receptions. She also has a .900 serving percentage with only six errors on 60 attempts.
Individually, she's also probably ahead of schedule. Valdez will have to continue that trend if she and Lakeview hope to continue opening more eyes.
"She has met our expectations so far, but in saying that, she has met them because she has improved dramatically to where she has been prior to this because that was our expectation," Belitz said. "She was going to take a significant step forward. Not so much on defense and digs, but really on serve receive, Becca has got much better.
"The numbers have improved tremendously. Sometimes you’ll see liberos that don’t serve receive but not very often. That was a big deal. She really had to focus on serve receive in the preseason here. Boy, she has come a long way."
Valdez started playing volleyball in eighth grade where, despite her stature, she started as an outside hitter. She was moved to libero starting freshman year.
She started playing volleyball after seeing her sister, Ariana Valdez, on the corut.
Belitz credits part of Valdez's success to her philosophy.
"What makes Becca a great libero specifically is just her attitude," he said. "She’s just tough, and boy, do liberos have to be tough. You think about what that position requires. You just have people hitting balls at you, hard, all night long. That’s all you get to do is try to handle that.
"She just has the right mindset for that. She’s never going to quit trying. She’s never going to be defeated. She’s just always going to go as hard as she can go. She’s really the ideal libero from that perspective."
Valdez has started looking at colleges. She visited Nebraska Wesleyan and has a visit to Wayne coming up.
While in college she is hoping to continue playing and major in biology while minoring in coaching. She then hopes to go to medical school and become a pediatrician.
"I really like kids and I like helping people. I’ve been on job shadows and being a pediatrician fits me," Valdez said. "I also love the game of volleyball. I’d love to come back here and coach sometime."
Peter Huguenin is a sports reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org