Hinsch setting things up in Duluth
Ashley Hinsch is not one to skimp on goal setting. Nor is her University of Minnesota Duluth volleyball team.
And why should they. After all, the Bulldogs are ranked No. 2 in the nation, one spot behind rival and six-time defending national champion Concordia, St. Paul.
"Our goal for this team is to win a national championship," said Hinsch, a 2012 Zumbrota-Mazeppa graduate. "That's a big thing to say. But we have the potential."
Hinsch is one of the cogs who gives the Bulldogs that potential. The 5-foot-9 sophomore setter was tossed immediately into the fray last year. She made Duluth coach Jim Boos look like a fine judge of talent. Hinsch performed not only as one of the best setters in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, but the country. She was named first-team All-NSIC as well as honorable-mention Division II All-America.
Her performance belied what she was feeling inside. Going from high school to college volleyball was a jump.
"It was pretty nerve-racking," Hinsch said. "A lot of the time that was just because it's college, and it's a higher level. Plus, I was playing with all of these older girls on the team. But I got over it, and the team was great in helping me out. I got along with everyone."
One of those players making Hinsch comfortable was an older rival, Stewartville 2010 graduate Julie Rainey.
Hinsch recalls matching up against Rainey constantly through high school, both in volleyball and basketball, where each was a star.
Once Hinsch arrived at the Duluth campus, both were pleased to put that rivalry away and join forces.
Off the court, Rainey not only provided a nice travel partner back to southeastern Minnesota on holidays for Hinsch, but she laid out a welcome mat for her at the Duluth campus and on this team.
"Julie made me feel welcome and helped me out," Hinsch said of Rainey, who like Hinsch is a Bulldogs starter, specializing in defense.
While Rainey has been an excellent support for Hinsch, no Bulldogs player makes this juggernaut team feel as stable as Katie Lange.
Lange's personality is purportedly warm and friendly. But there is nothing warm or friendly about her game. The 6-1 Hibbing native is a killer outside hitter, and she dwarfs pretty much everybody when she's on the court.
Lange currently has a whopping 257 kills this season for 13-1 Duluth, the lone loss to No. 1 Concordia, St. Paul. Nobody else has more than 116 kills.
A year ago Lange finished with 569 kills and was named Division II's volleyball player of the year. The Bulldogs finished 29-5 last year and reached the regional tournament, falling to Concordia, St. Paul.
Hinsch says that Lange went a long way toward making her look like a star.
"Katie makes me look good," Hinsch said. "When the game is on the line, we know we can go to her and she can get us a win. She's gotta be pretty intimidating for the other teams. She hits harder than every other hitter we play against."
As modest as Hinsch is about her own abilities, there's no doubt that it's the combination of Lange and Hinsch that makes teams most nervous. Hinsch finished with a Duluth freshman record 1,133 set assists last year, with the majority of them going to Lange.
And that was with Hinsch still playing a tad nervous. Now that the those nerves are gone, Boos sees an even better player. "Last year she had to catch up to the speed of the game and try to get rid of some nerves," Boos said. "It's not easy to step in as a freshman, but by the middle of the season, she was really good."
"She's looking great," Boos said. "We had a full spring to work with her. She's gotten a lot better at setting up the middle. She sets a very nice, hittable ball."