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Taylor Petersen of Midland University goes for a kill as Grace Whitlaw (24) and Grace Hanno of Briar Cliff defend during a Great Plains Athletic Conference match on Oct. 6 in the Wikert Event Center. 

Taylor Petersen is like a lot of athletes on the 14th-ranked Midland University volleyball team.

While growing up in Auburn, the 5-foot-11 outside hitter also excelled in basketball and track, but her passion was in the sport she competed in during the fall. She basically grew up around volleyball as her father, Steve, was her head coach her freshman and sophomore seasons. He later served as an assistant coach for the Bulldogs and now teaches in Sabetha, Kansas.

“I have my dad to thank for my competitive edge,” said Petersen, who is third on MU with 219 kills. “I’m a competitive person in whatever I’m doing. My junior and senior year he pushed me on the court, but he let me make my own calls on where I wanted to visit and who I wanted to meet with (for colleges). He was very supportive.”

One of those schools was Midland where Coach Paul Giesselmann was in the process of building the Lady Warriors into a national power.

“I came to a couple of the open gyms they had for volleyball when I was a sophomore or junior in high school,” Petersen said. “I can’t even describe the bond that the girls here had. It was something I wanted to be a part of.”

Petersen earned all-state honors at Auburn, but spent her freshman season at MU on the junior varsity.

“That was definitely a transition,” she said. “I was used to playing all the way around and being a key player, but that year of development was critical for me.”

Petersen had served as a setter early in her career with the Bulldogs, but switched to outside hitter. Last fall, when MU All-American Jessica Peters missed some time with a foot injury, Petersen filled in at setter, including one match (against Westmont of California) at the national tournament.

Having the background as a setter has been beneficial to Petersen’s development as a player.

“I haven’t totally given up on setting,” she said “I do some training on it and I’ll set on the scout side sometimes. I think that has helped my court awareness and just my knowledge of the game.”

As a sophomore starter last year, Petersen was fifth on the team with 159 kills, but has already exceeded those numbers with the national tournament set for next week. She also has 39 total blocks and 12 ace serves. The Lady Warriors, 22-6, have also already exceeded last year’s win total when they finished 21-11.

Peters, middle blocker Priscilla O’Dowd and outside hitter Jenny Bair will be among the players the Lady Warriors will lose to graduation in May. Petersen will be looked to be one of the leaders next season.

“I’m excited to take on a leadership role, but I can’t talk enough about what the seniors this year have done,” Petersen said. “They’ve worked hard for four years and some have been key players on our scout team. There are a variety of personalities, but they have helped us all out. They’ve taught us a lot about what is expected when new people move into those roles.”

Petersen is hopeful the Lady Warriors can send this year’s senior class out in style. Midland will face 18th-ranked Vanguard University at 3 Tuesday afternoon in Sioux City, Iowa, in the NAIA Tournament. MU also has pool matches against Aquinas College on Nov. 28 and third-ranked Columbia College on Nov. 29.

“Vanguard is our first opponent and then we’ll move on from there,” Petersen said. “We’ll have a lot of competition, but I think we have the potential to do well against some really good teams.”

Petersen, who carries a 3.97 GPA in elementary education, could have coaching in her future. She is already helping MU assistant Steve Bymers coach club ball with the Nebraska Elite.

“I’ve definitely put a lot of thought into that already,” Petersen said. “Growing up in the gym with my dad as a coach has taught me so much already. That competitive edge has been instilled in me by my family. I know I’ll be competitive all my life.”

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