Tara Blake: A diverse asset for Loras volleyball program

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photo contributed

The women’s volleyball team has faced a lot of adversity this season. They have had to shuffle their lineup on a continuous basis due to injury and have had to play with a target on their back after being picked to win the conference. Nevertheless, the team has kept fighting through it all, and one player in particular has really stepped up for the them.

Senior Tara Blake started her 2016 campaign like she did the three seasons before it, as an outside hitter. Unfortunately, due to the injury of a fellow teammate, Blake was called on to set for the Duhawks in some of their previous matches.

Blake first stepped in as a setter in Loras’ road match against Simpson on Saturday, Oct. 1. She embodied this new role and helped the Duhawks secure their first Iowa Conference win of the season. She recorded 15 assists, one dig and added a kill to sweep the Storm, 3-0.

Her success has only increased since then as she posted a strong performance in the team’s home match against Buena Vista last week for Dig Pink Night. Despite falling in the match 3-1, Blake had the best showing of any setter so far this season. She recorded a team-high 29 assists while tallying 16 digs and one kill as well.
Head coach Jenna Ness is ecstatic to have had Blake on the court this season as she faced her own turn with injury last year. In her words, having Blake back is amazing.

“Tara is such a great leader on and off the court– her knowledge of the game and how diverse she is as a player makes her an asset to our program,” Ness said.

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photo by Megan Tews

Diversity is definitely key in this situation, as it was noted Blake’s usual position is as an outside hitter. Still, Ness trusted in her abilities and called on her to step in.

“Tara has set for us in the past and her experience showed that she was able to run an offense,” said Ness.

The ability to run an offense is an understatement for the way Blake performed in the last couple matches. She has only played the role of setter in two matches thus far, and in that time she has averaged 6.29 assists per set. She credits her success to both her teammates and coaches for supporting her.

My teammates and coaches helped me transition from hitter to setter. It helped that Jenna had complete confidence in me running the offense; the coach-player trust is always important, but even more so when transitioning to a new position. The setting position is totally different than hitting, as you are now the quarterback of the offense. Luckily I had great hitters to set, which made the position much easier to adjust to,” said Blake.

One of the best qualities about Blake is that no matter what position she is in or whether she is on or off the court, she is a leader. Her biggest strength is her team mentality and communication with others. Specifically, Ness appreciates her ability to motivate other people while keeping them light and relaxed. Blake has really enjoyed her time donning the purple and gold.

“It has been an awesome four seasons playing volleyball at Loras. I love representing not only the volleyball program but Loras College. My teammates are my family here on campus, and there’s nothing better than playing the sport you love with your best friends,” she said.

Unfortunately for the Duhawks, injury continues to plague the team. After Blake’s stellar performance against the Beavers last week, she was unable to play against Nebraska Wesleyan on Saturday. Going forward, Ness is uncertain about which players will be game-ready and which will still need recovery.

Luckily, after facing Wartburg on Tuesday, the Duhawks will have a series of non-conference games before facing their final IIAC opponent. This will give them a chance to regroup and prepare for the postseason.

Before traveling to Waverly to take on Wartburg, the Duhawks sat at 9-11 on the season. The team will look to improve on this record in their upcoming non-conference action.

The team will be on the road for the next two weeks before returning home on Tuesday, Oct. 25, to face Luther for Senior Night.

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