Graduating two of the best middle hitters in the Sun Belt Conference can definitely put some question marks on a position. However, as soon as Western Kentucky University volleyball coach Travis Hudson took a look at the program's history, he knows that the role will become solid as soon as the 2012 season begins to roll.
"It's been over a decade since we have had a middle hitter here that hasn't turned into an all-conference player at some point in her career. That's insane to say," said Hudson. "It's because we have great ball control, and we run everything offensively through them.
"We have some questions that have to be answered there in the middle. We won't be as experienced, that's unquestionable, but I think we will be more physical and maybe even more talented in that position."
Tiffany Elmore and Lindsay Williams provided the top two hitting percentages and total blocks last season while playing in almost every set. With the pair gone, this season's three middle hitters have room to gain experience and grow.
The most experienced of the trio is sophomore Heather Boyan. In 2011, the Munster, Ind., native played in 41 sets to add 30 kills and 24 blocks.
"I think Heather could have played for any other team in our league last year," said Hudson. "She was just behind two senior middles, but Heather is the one kid who got the most work done in the last offseason. She is a tremendous hard worker, fantastic athlete, and I really believe the next all-conference middle to come out of WKU. I think she is the one who will emerge very quickly as a high-caliber middle hitter. "
Junior Lindsay Spears takes on a new role with the team, as she slides over this season to the middle after playing outside last year. Originally from Indianapolis, Spears has tabbed just under 38 kills in the 39 sets she has played in while being at WKU.
"Lindsay has responded to the move by having a very good spring there," said Hudson. "Offensively she is a very intelligent player, very low error and takes care of the ball really well, which are all things you would want out of a hitter. I feel confident offensively that she can get the job done for us. The biggest question for her is how well she blocks, and if she can get the job done blocking, which will come with experience, she is going to be a very solid addition to our middles."
Rounding out the middle hitters is freshman Noelle Langenkamp. An Ursuline Academy product from Ohio, Langenkamp was a two-time all-state selection and holds numerous kills and blocking records at her school. She finished her career with 657 kills and 275 blocks.
"Noelle is probably the most highly-touted recruit we have walking through the door," said Hudson. "Again, I have coached a lot of really good middles and kind of know it when I see it, and Noelle Langenkamp is going to be a good player here. She is a big kid with really long arms. She has to get better physically still, but she's pretty skilled to be as young as she is. She just has to understand how to play the position at this level. We are really excited about her, and we know from a physical standpoint that she can compete from day one. It's just going to be a matter of how quickly she gets there mentally."Make sure to check back to WKUSports.com for the final position preview, as well as all the latest news and info before the season begins August 24 at Louisville.