I've harped for a while now about the importance of Southern Ontario in UB Athletics recruiting. Simply put, few other FBS schools enjoy such a proximity to one of the hemisphere's largest population centers, and factoring in not only distance but the international border, UB's access to such a talent base is almost unprecedented.
We've already covered a pair of Canadian Bulls in this series, and today we hit a third. Better yet, Niki Bozinoski is not only a product of UB's inroads into Southern Ontario, but also a near-lock for the starting lineup after playing in every match - one of seven Bulls to do so - and even in every set, one of just two to do that. Bozinoski as a freshman stepped into the very big shoes of all-time UB great Kelly Svoboda as the program's next defensive ace, leading the team in digs by a wide margin, with 427.
Niki was also the team leader in service reception, though she and Megan Lipski were close to an even split in volume, there. With only Bozinoski, Lipski, Tahleia Bishop, and Skyler Day accounting for that first touch, the freshman was the most consistent, committing an error just 4% of the time. Though it felt at times last year that UB struggled with service reception, they finished with better aggregate numbers than their opponents, and Bozinoski's first touch helps an offense that will this year see a number of new faces.
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Prior to UB, Niki was a standout on a national level in Canada, winning a pair of club national titles in 2011 and 2013, earning recognition as Canadian National All-Star Libero in 2012, and also in 2013 leading her high school team to a perfect 35-0 record and Ontario Provincial Championship in scholastic competition.
If you're new to volleyball, Bozinoski is easy to spot and someone you'll see plenty of on the court. She's UB's libero, a specialized position that is loosely an 'all-time defender.' Less loosely, the libero position enjoys an exemption from the usual substitution rules and, while she does rotate, is effectively on the court for the entire set. Because of that substitution exemption, the libero wears an off-color jersey like a soccer goalie. Liberos are not permitted to block or attack the ball, and while they'll sometimes set the ball if they weren't first to receive serve or dig an attack, they can't do so from the front court.
Much like Cassie Shado, who we covered a few days ago, Niki will play a critical role for UB Volleyball in 2015 because of the imbalanced roster. Day and Bishop are both gone from 2014, taking with them a large chunk of UB's digs and service reception and an even larger chunk of the team's attacking power. Right now, the UB roster features only three (maybe four if you count Megan Wernette, who played a hybrid role in high school) outside hitters, and only Megan Lipski has previous collegiate experience. Every other part of UB's game is going to have to shine for the Bulls to find success.
Bozinoski's showing in 2014 proved she was up to the challenge of being Buffalo's premiere back line defender, even as a freshman. This year, with less support, the title and its responsibilities are hers and hers alone. If she can up her already-impressive game, UB might be able to weather its offseason transitions better than you might think.