Volleyball: Badgers look to replace Odenthal

Trio of players in competition to take over for All-American

For the first time in four seasons, the University of Wisconsin volleyball team enters the spring season with someone other than Jill Odenthal lining up at opposite hitter. What remains to be seen is just who will be taking the place of the graduated All-American on the right side. Currently, the Badger coaching staff is auditioning three players for the role: Aubrey Meierotto, Audra Jeffers and Amy Bladow.

Meierotto, a co-captain in 2004 and senior-to-be, is the most experienced of the group, having played in 89 career matches. That court time, however, has all come at the left-side hitter position.

"It's definitely a lot different," Meierotto said of hitting on the right side. "But if that's the role they give me, I'll definitely do it."

A powerful attacker with a whip-like right arm, Meierotto has filled the role of left-side terminator for the past two seasons. In 2004, she averaged 2.83 kills per game and finished third on the squad with 325 total kills. After taking all of her swings on the left side for bulk of her UW career, the adjustment to playing opposite has been somewhat of a difficult one for Meierotto.

"The ball's coming across your body differently for hitting," Meierotto said. "When I first started, in the beginning of spring, it was definitely difficult for me. It's just a matter of adjusting to different types of sets and getting a rhythm."

Bladow, who will be a junior this fall, came to Wisconsin as a middle blocker. After earning a starting role as a freshman in 2003, she took a back seat to Taylor Reineke last season. Even after moving out of the starting seven, though, the fiery Bladow filled an important role as the Badgers' sparkplug off the bench. In addition to backing up Sheila Shaw and Reineke in 2004, Bladow also briefly worked at right-side hitter in practice.

The most exciting prospect of the three may be Jeffers, a talented and promising hitter who redshirted last season. Out of Hartland, Wis., Jeffers brings size at 6-foot-2 to go along with tremendous athleticism. Working with the second team in the fall, she was often a practice nightmare for the starters. Jeffers has worked at both outside hitter positions and also has some middle blocker experience. One way or another, she figures to make an impact this fall.

"We've got this whole spring to get her stronger and bring her up to speed in the game," head coach Pete Waite said of Jeffers. "Even in the fall, she was really playing well enough where she could have gotten some good court time for us. The players and the staff are really excited to see her on the court this spring and get her some good experience."

Regardless of who lines up on the right side, Wisconsin will once again put up an imposing block. Meierotto and Bladow each stand 6-1, while Jeffers checks in at 6-2. Starting left-side hitter Maria Carlini is also 6-2. Inside, UW returns Shaw at 6-1 and Reineke at 6-3. Setter Jackie Simpson (6-0) is also an accomplished blocker.

"I think we're going to be a more versatile team than we were in the fall and we've got more size," Waite said.

Should Meierotto start on the right side, Jeffers would likely slide into the starting lineup at left-side along with Carlini. Bladow would then return to her role as reserve energizer in the middle. If Jeffers earns the nod at right-side hitter, then Meierotto would stay put on the left. If the coaching staff elects to play Bladow opposite, then Meierotto, Carlini and Jeffers would battle for court time at the two left-side rotation spots.

"We've tried a lot of different lineups," Simpson said. "It's a new lineup every day at practice. It's actually really comforting as a setter because you know that no matter who's back there — whether it be Aubrey, Audra or Bladow — you know they're going to put the ball down."

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