Name change gives fresh start for volleyball’s libero

Though one may recognize the libero on the Illinois volleyball team, her name may not sound familiar.

Jennifer Beltran, formerly known as Bonilla, has changed her name from her birth mother’s side to her adopted father’s side.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Beltran said. “They’ve done a lot for me (the Beltran) family … they’re not my blood-related family and they kind of took me in and guided me.”

Changing her name gave Beltran a chance to honor the commitment her family has given her and their help with reaching the goal of collegiate volleyball.

“I wanted to show them how much I appreciate everything they’ve done for me and show how much I really care for them,” Beltran said. “For me that was one big thing I could do.”

This also represents a fresh start for the sophomore, who has some new goals and records she hopes to set this season.

Beltran may be on track to reach those goals, as head coach Kevin Hambly said she is already a better player than last year.

“Yeah (Beltran) is better already in a lot of things and she understands college volleyball,” Hambly said.

“I think Jen’s going to be one of the better liberos in the country by the end of her career, she has that kind of potential.”

*Freshmen give new height to volleyball court*

Of the five freshmen on the Illinois volleyball team, including redshirt Anna Dorn, none are under six feet tall.

Recent graduate Johannah Bangert, who stands 6-foot-1 herself, was impressed with how tall the 2011 team is at Saturday’s alumni game.

“One of the big differences (in this team), is after losing me, Laura (DeBruler) and Hillary (Haen), because we were the undersized ones, they are huge,” Bangert said. “And it’s intimidating and there were a couple plays where some of them didn’t even jump, just threw the ball down.”

Hambly doesn’t believe the change in height will change much of his style of play offensively or defensively. The height should give some added contribution to the area of blocking, though. Freshman Liz McMahon, outside hitter and projected starter, stands at 6-foot-6, the tallest player on the court.

“I think our style as far as being defensive oriented, we want to be a good blocking team,” Hambly said. “We’re going to run similar offense as we did last year just with different people.”

*Big Ten scores 7 top-25 rankings*

It should be another competitive year for Big Ten volleyball.

With the addition of Nebraska, a program with the second most wins in NCAA history, seven Big Ten teams are ranked in the top-25 coaches poll.

Illinois, ranked No. 8, has the third-highest ranking in the conference behind No. 1 Penn State and No. 5 Nebraska.

Despite Nebraska’s higher ranking, Illinois tied the Cornhuskers in the Big Ten coaches poll to finish second in the conference, as Penn State was predicted to win the conference. Penn State has won the Big Ten in each of the past eight seasons.