For the better part of a decade, the Durand Bulldogs have been one of the top volleyball teams in all of the Northwest Upstate Illini Conference.

Through losing players to graduation and starting fresh each year, the Bulldogs continue to find a way to come out on top.

     The one common denominator though all of the success is Durand’s head coach, Molly Kelsey. In Kelsey’s 11 years at the helm, the Bulldogs hold a record of 248-83-13.  Just last season, Durand finished with an overall record of 24-12-1, while going 8-4 in conference play.

    As absurd as it sounds, that 24-win season could be considered a “down year” in term’s of Kelsey’s career.  Not counting the COVID season, the Bulldogs have finished with 25, or more, wins in four of their last five full seasons.

This year, the Bulldogs are hoping to creep back up to the 30-win mark and, on paper, it looks like they have what it takes to get there.

    While the 2022 Bulldogs lost their setter, Elaina Nyen, to graduation, the returning talent is abundant. Senior, Rhiannon Robertson headlines the team as she returns as one of their outside hitters.  Robertson was a First Team All-Conference (unanimous) selection in 2022.  On top of that, Robertson was named to both the Oregon and Eastland All-Tournament teams.

    Fellow senior, Rachel Nevdal, also returns as a First Team All-Conference selection from last year.  As the team’s libero, Nevdal holds things down as one of the best in the NUIC.

The Bulldogs also return their right-side hitter, Cailyn Lane.  In her sophomore season, Lane played well enough to earn an Honorable Mention for All-Conference.  Lane hopes to climb the ranks in her junior campaign.

    Kelsey also holds high expectations for a pair of underclassmen.  Sophomore, Emily Quine, and freshman, Lola Robertson, are expected to make an impact as newcomers to the varsity level, this season.  Quine and Robertson hope to add some defensive help as they both come in as middle blockers.

    Defense is something that Kelsey wants to perfect this year.  That’s her main focus for the team’s improvement, early on.

“One area I really want to zone in on this year is our defensive reaction time.”  Kelsey shared, adding that, “I feel like there’s no such thing as a team who constantly hustles all over the court.”

    For the Bulldogs, health will be an important part of their success in 2023.  Without a ton of depth, an injury or two could throw things way off course.

Kelsey spoke about staying healthy, and the team’s overall goals in 2023, saying “Our goal is to stay healthy, work as a team, keep a positive outlook on each game, and work hard to get to the postseason.”

    Things won’t be easy in a highly competitive NUIC, but Kelsey and the team embrace the challenges ahead.  “As always, we have a tough conference.”

Kelsey said, explaining “Lena-Winslow will be very strong as they have some returning starters.  Aquin has a very strong setter who is also very smart, so we need to watch out for them as well.”

    In the end, the Bulldogs see their tough schedule as a benefit.  “We do play tough teams in our conference, which is a good thing.  I feel like a tough season prepares you for the postseason, and that is what we need,” Kelsey added.

    It will be exciting to see the Bulldogs get to work in 2023. After going on the road to face Polo to open their 2023 regular season, the Bulldogs will play their home opener on Monday, Aug. 28, when they play host to Milledgeville.

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