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Chico bumps roster up with fresh recruit

First-year libero Natalia Betancourt at volleyball practice Thursday morning. Photo credit: Kiana Alvarez

At 6 a.m. on a warm Chico morning with the sun slowly creeping over the bleachers, first-year women’s volleyball recruit Natalia Betancourt is already on the track.

After her morning run, a two-hour practice is next up in Betancourt’s day from 10 a.m. to noon. The team’s practice includes drills to help improve footwork and timing for each position. The day ends with a three-hour practice from 3-6 p.m. Betancourt is primed to make a big impact in her rookie season.

“The amount of time you spend in the gym practicing or working out is probably the biggest difference between playing in college and playing in high school or on a club team,” Betancourt said. “In high school, you would have one two-hour practice a day, whereas in college we are having three two-hour practices a day to get into shape and prepare for the upcoming season.”

Betancourt was recruited from Santiago High School in Corona, where she earned Second Team All-Area Honors.

Incoming freshmen Natalia Betancourt at practice Thursday morning. Photo credit: Kiana Alvarez

One of the main reasons Betancourt chose to come play for Chico State was to be a part of a college town with a real college atmosphere.

“I chose Chico State because it was a completely different campus and college town than the other schools that wanted me,” Betancourt said. “Chico is more countryside, and I wanted to experience this culture and the season-changing environment, rather than the SoCal weather I grew up in.”

Some of the big differences between high school and college ball that Betancourt has experienced is the number of assistant coaches that are on-hand to help improve her game. Additionally, there is always an athletic trainer at every practice to tape ankles and help with injuries.

Cody Hein, women’s volleyball head coach, said it’s tough to make the jump from high school to college because not only is the training different, there is a lot more of it.

The team is currently running “three-a-days” which means having three practices per day with each practice lasting at least two hours. This grueling schedule will last a week and is meant to help get the team back in shape and ready for the long season ahead.

“We are on day four and generally if you ask the girls how they feel right now, they will say their bodies are one big blob of fatigue and pain,” Hein said. “Freshman tend to struggle with that aspect of it, but Natalia’s handling it really well and is doing a good job with her movement.”

Betancourt brings a tough defensive mindset to a young ‘Cat club with only two senior players. The Chico State team will have seven new key players including two juniors and five first-years. With a young and untested team, Betancourt is excited to start the season.

Some of Betancourt’s standout qualities are her positive attitude and how much she cares about the team as the season approaches.

“They’re a great group of girls,” Betancourt said. “They’re there for me on and off the court.”

Coach Hein says Betancourt has a wonderful attitude and never complains.

“She’s a great teammate who no one has a problem with and as a coach, you always love those type of players,” Hein said.

The season has yet to begin, but overall Hein likes the way the young team is shaping up.

“It’s still preseason, but the girls are working hard. They all have great attitudes and so far, they are looking really good. This could be a positive season,” Hein said.

Regardless of whether Betancourt is a starter or coming off the bench this season, one thing is still certain. Betancourt will always be having fun.

“If you’re out there having fun, you will do your job a lot better than if you’re not having fun,” Betancourt said. “I’m super excited and can’t wait to play in my first college game.”

Jason Spies can be reached at [email protected] or @Jason_Spies on Twitter.

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