Three newcomers on the St. Ambrose volleyball team feel right at home for a reason.
They all transferred home to the Quad-Cities from other programs to help build the Bees into a contender in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference, and, at 5-0 in league play, St. Ambrose is off to its best league start since 2009.
Libero Jenna Laxton, of Moline; outside hitter Clarissa Blick, of Davenport North; and setter Morgan Twing, of Rock Island, share something else in common.
They all wanted the chance to play for second-year coach Dawn Kerr.
Laxton and Blick worked with Kerr when she previously coached with the Platform Elite program while Twing was on the opposite side of the net at the high school level when Kerr was part of the coaching staff at Moline High School.
“That familiarity was important. Coming home to get the chance to play for her again was something I wanted to do,’’ said Blick, who previously played at Ashford and Dakota State before transferring to St. Ambrose for her senior season.
Laxton is a junior who transferred from Kirkwood Community College. Her fellow junior Twing played at the junior college level for Illinois Central College the past two seasons.
“The way she teaches the game and the way she coaches, I knew that she would build something good here, and I wanted to be part of that,’’ Laxton said. “I’m still a student of the game in a lot of ways, and the chance to learn from her appealed to me.’’
Twing likes what she sees developing as the St. Ambrose season nears its midpoint.
The Bees are 9-8 overall but lead their division in the CCAC as they work toward hosting a weekend conference crossover tournament, welcoming the league’s two national tourney qualifiers from a year ago to Lee Lohman Arena on Friday and Saturday.
“The thing I like is that we still can become a much better team, and we’re working to get that done,’’ Twing said. “We’re working together better with each match we play, and I think we’re starting to see our potential.’’
Kerr sees that as well, liking the tenacity she sees developing.
Laxton is an example. She was named the CCAC defensive player of the week earlier this season and currently is fourth in the conference in digs.
“I knew coming in that she would be a competitor. She’s technically sound, and she brings an intense attitude to the court,’’ Kerr said. “She’s become one of our leaders in part because of the way she approaches the game.’’
Kerr expects St. Ambrose to be tested this weekend when the Bees host the first of two CCAC crossover tourneys, the only matches of the regular season pairing teams from opposite divisions in the 13-team league.
On Friday, St. Ambrose hosts Calumet-St. Joseph at 3 p.m. and 2016 NAIA qualifier St. Francis (Ill.) at 7 p.m. The Bees host the league’s other NAIA qualifier from a year ago, Indiana-South Bend, at noon on Saturday.
“It’s going to be good competition for us,’’ Blick said. “We’ve played tough opponents this season, and we’re anxious to see how we match up against some of the teams that have traditionally been strong in our conference.’’
Laxton said the Bees’ approach won’t change.
“We’ve done a good job of focusing on our side of the court, and if we continue to do that, we can do big things,’’ she said. “We’re putting in the work to make that happen.’’
Improved communication and teamwork will help St. Ambrose continue to build on its CCAC start.
“The better it can become, the better we can become,’’ Twing said. “We’re trying to become better at stringing points together and not settling for just trading points with people. We’re doing OK with that, especially at home with the band and our fans, but we need to bring into that every match.’’
Kerr, a Riverdale graduate who played collegiately at Mississippi State, said the Quad-City area players on the Bees’ roster help create a chance to accomplish that.
“There are good volleyball players in this area, and I think the college programs here can and do provide opportunities for them and as well as for players from other areas,’’ Kerr said.
“We’re excited to have the Quad-City players on our team. They bring a little hometown pride to the court, and they are helping us compete and grow our program.’’