Last fall, the Notre Dame volleyball team brought home its second-straight Class 3 District 1 Championship after going five years without winning one prior to the 2021 season.
The Bulldogs, of course, have aspirations to win a third consecutive district title this season despite graduating three multiple-time SEMO All-Conference and all-district selections in outside hitters Kristin Anderson, Tori Rubel and libero Anna Garner.
Anderson, who now plays Division-I soccer at Southeast Missouri State, was Notre Dame’s all-around player by spending plenty of time in the front and back rows. Kristin recorded a team-high 299 kills (.243 hitting percentage) while finishing second in digs behind Garner’s total of 641 with 487 of her own.
Three players came to Notre Dame head coach Meridith Brinkmeyer’s mind when asked about who would take over that role. The first Bulldog she mentioned was their returning starter at middle hitter in sophomore Kate Rubel.
Standing at 6-foot tall, Rubel bursted onto the scene for Notre Dame last fall and ended up leading the Bulldogs in hitting percentage at .362 and total blocks with 88. Along with recording the second-most kills at 258, Kate was also four digs shy of notching 100 in her first season while primarily playing in the front row.
“Kate has really put in a lot of work this summer by doing trainings and stuff,” Brinkmeyer said. “It’s been awesome, and she’s just a competitor. She’s going to give it everything she’s got every single game and a lot of times you can’t teach that.
“The excitement I’ve seen her have this year — she’s really wanting that all-around position. Just to see the effort and work that she’s put in because she’s been in the SportsPlex getting private lessons. To see her notice how good she can be in volleyball is awesome to see.”
Another freshman that started for Notre Dame’s district championship team last season was setter Claudia Jones, who finished with a team-high 505 assists while coming up with 190 digs. Serving the ball, Jones recorded 46 aces and finished with a serve percentage of 93.7%.
“Claudia is smart — she distributes the ball well and notices which hitter is on that night,” Brinkmeyer said. “She seems to just always make the right play at the right time. We might be struggling for a hit, and she’ll just dump it over the net for a kill.”
The second player Coach Brinkmeyer mentioned for Notre Dame’s all-around spot was 5-11 junior middle hitter Courtney Tatum, who finished fourth in kills with 114 (.245 hitting percentage) and sixth in digs at 140 for the Bulldogs last fall.
Tatum also was Notre Dame’s third leader in blocks (66) behind Kate and Tori Rubel (67). This will be Courtney’s third year of varsity action as she also played a little bit on the 2021 district title team as a freshman.
“I play Courtney and Kate most of the time all the way around. Courtney is a great presence out there, and we can use her in the front and back row,” Brinkmeyer said. “Her being tall — she can reach a lot of stuff.”
Notre Dame’s lone senior of this year’s roster Aubrey Neumeyer was the third player Brinkmeyer brought up when talking about the do-it-all role. Neumeyer finished third behind Anderson and Garner in digs by registering 274 one year ago while only having 10 kills offensively.
“Aubrey has been playing an all-around spot as well, and she’s just grown into that leadership role this summer being our only senior,” Coach Brinkmeyer said. “She was kind of quiet last year, but that’s kind of expected with how many seniors we did have.
“She’s really taken on that role and been very positive to the underclassmen. She’s also done some big things for us in the front row, so I’m looking for her to have a big year this year.”
One player who Bulldog volleyball fans will see plenty more of this fall will be sophomore Brie Rubel. Brie, who is the twin sister of Kate, only played in 16 of Notre Dame’s 97 sets as a freshman and will serve as an outside hitter/defensive specialist this season.
Even though she didn’t play much last fall, Brie helped lead the Bulldogs basketball team to the Class 5 Final Four along with Kate and Tori.
“I’m looking at Brie to fill in a big role for us — she’s quick on defense, and her hitting really came along at the end of the J.V. season,” Coach Brinkmeyer said. “She was starting to get a lot of blocks as well, so that’s always a positive. I think she can be big for us defensively and offensively.”
Brinkmeyer will also hope for juniors like Skylar Craft, Kendyl Slinkard, Lyla Martin, Claire Hennemann and Addison Clippard to step up this fall.