MEGHAN CONLIN/Herald PhotoLast year, the Wisconsin volleyball team had a new face in the starting lineup at the beginning of the season. That young player was redshirt freshman Audra Jeffers, and all she did was lead the team in kills per game and make the Big Ten all-freshman team while helping the Badgers return to the Elite Eight for the second year in a row.This year, the Badgers will again have a relatively unknown player looking to make an impact on the court in redshirt freshman Katherine Dykstra. As a middle blocker, Dykstra will be looked to to step up to the level of past UW standouts, as she could replace two-time All-Big Ten middle Sheila Shaw, who graduated after last season.”Having Sheila leave last year, there definitely are really big shoes to fill,” Dykstra said. “There is all this pressure on anyone coming in to fill seniors’ spots. I have a lot to live up to.”While the starting lineup for next year is still being figured out in spring practices, UW head coach Pete Waite said he figures Dykstra will help the Badgers replace Shaw.”Well, Katherine gives us some size and a big jump,” Waite said. “She’s 6-foot-3, and she touches about 10-foot-7 when she is at her best. She’s got very long arms, so that really is at an angle most opponents have trouble handling.”Most freshman athletes coming in their first year face the decision of whether to play or redshirt. If they decide to redshirt, the athlete gets a year to practice with the team and adjust to the pace of the college game before ever stepping on the court for a regular-season game. This year of experience helps the athlete improve his or her skills before playing a meaningful game.One Badger who improved her game by redshirting is Jeffers, now a sophomore.”Well, obviously, redshirting definitely helped me gain a lot of strength,” Jeffers said. “It also helped me kind of learn the entire game of volleyball.”When I came in, I just knew how to play front-row middle blocker, and now I’m an outside playing all the way around,” Jeffers continued. “So I think it just made me a well-rounded player.”And Jeffers sees the same improvement in Dykstra this year.”Definitely, [redshirting helped Dykstra] in the same ways. I’m seeing her hit a lot stronger now, and she’s just improved in all of her skills.”The decision to redshirt last year for Dykstra was an easy one because, unlike most other recruits, she had only started to play competitive volleyball as a junior at New Trier High School in Wilmette, Ill.”It made the decision really easy because I knew I wasn’t prepared to come in and play college volleyball — Division I, Big Ten volleyball,” Dykstra said. “When I came up here, they said that there was a pretty good chance that I would redshirt just to get the experience, which has been really good for me. It’s helped me improve a lot.”In fact, Dykstra played basketball during high school, where she was the starting center for her team when it was the runner-up at the 2004 Illinois state tournament. Then, one day, after a practice during her junior year, everything changed.”I was walking out of basketball practice, and the volleyball coach was standing out in the hallway. [She] asked me if I wanted to come in to hit a few balls, just to see if I liked it,” Dykstra said. “So I went in and hit a couple, and I was hooked.”About halfway through her redshirt season last year, Dykstra suffered from compartment syndrome, which required her to have surgery around Thanksgiving. Though she was not able to practice for the rest of the year, she was able to learn more about the game.”I was here at practice every day. I did rehab at a separate time so I could be here with the team,” Dykstra said. “Just watching them, seeing the timing and all that, middle hitting and middle blocking. I could definitely still learn a lot just from being at practice and watching all the other girls play,” she said.Dykstra said she was also able to bond with her teammates more during that time.”We’ve all been really close. The whole team has been amazing,” she said. “We have a bond that is going to be hard to break. When I was in the hospital for a while, they came and visited me almost every day. Any teammate would feel good.”You know they’re there, and you know they care and you know they want you to get back with them out on the court again.”Now Dykstra is back on the court practicing every day, working hard with her teammates to improve so they can achieve their goals of a Big Ten Championship and a Final Four appearance.”I just want to get out there and make an impact on the court and be able to play at the speed of the game,” Dykstra said.