By Bud Denega
ADA — She never leaves the court. Her only respite, the occasional time out or short breather in between sets.
She's different. Her uniform clashes with those of her teammates, making her stand out and easily identifiable.
She's loud and talkative. She has to be. Without it, the team would flounder.
She's McKenna Hostetler, libero and captain for the Ohio Northern volleyball team.
Hostetler hails from Plain City, Ohio. It's an unassuming town of 4,000 people located just outside of Columbus' metropolitan reach.
Jonathan Alder High School calls a desolate spot on Route 42 home. It's an impressive structure with nothing much of note around it.
For a while the Pioneers' volleyball squad didn't have much to write home about. The team certainly wasn't bad, but it didn't succeed at a high level.
That is until Hostetler's senior year. A talented group of seniors who had played together for nearly a decade carved their way into their school's record books.
"We had a mission that year," Hostetler said. "We really wanted to go to the state."
The Pioneers — who had never qualified to the state tournament — left little doubt that season, winning every single match leading up to an appearance in the state title game. The ending wasn't what the Pioneers envisioned — falling in the championship — but the success catapulted Hostetler to a collegiate career that has been nothing short of unforgettable.
The high school success command the attention of college coaches. Hostetler had a number of schools contacting her about continuing her volleyball career, one of which was Ohio Northern.
Hostetler remembers her trip to Ada vividly. The small town, close-knit university and success of the volleyball program made it distinguishable.
"I knew right when I got here that I absolutely loved it," Hostetler said. "I still looked at some other schools, but there was just no competing. I loved the small atmosphere of ONU. It felt like home."
Something that also made it feel like home — winning. The Polar Bears had a tremendous winning tradition well before Hostetler committed, and she has enhanced that winning tradition the last four years.
Hostetler has appeared in all 125 matches of her career in orange and black. Her role has grown from a defensive specialist her first two seasons to the starting libero for the last two.
"She's a gritty, tough competitor," ONU head coach Kate Witte said. "Her ability to lead and be a mentor to her teammates has made a great impact and difference in our program for the past four years."
Hostetler has compiled a 102-23 record, an astonishing .816 winning percentage. The Polar Bears, during Hostetler's tenure, have only lost three Ohio Athletic Conference matches, an extremely difficult feat considering the target that has existed in each and every set.
"Every single game, the other team is going to give us their best," Hostetler said. "Everybody knows we are good, and we have a reputation of that. They really want to beat us, so there are no off nights for us."
Hostetler has also gotten it done individually. She has logged 2,034 digs, 453 sets and 182 assists in her decorated career.
Hostetler's numbers bear out a meteoric rise. After registering a season-high 540 digs as a junior — which ranked fifth all-time for juniors at ONU — Hostetler has added 619 this season, which coupled with her first two years, has vaulted her up to fourth all-time in school history.
And while those records will stand for quite some time alongside Hostetler's name, she's quick to deflect the credit to her teammates and especially her head coach.
"Honesty, coach Witte is really tough on you, but at the end of the day you know she loves you, and she would absolutely do anything for you," Hostetler said. "… She keeps a very honest program, and we talk about absolutely everything. If there's a little problem, we talk about it, and I think that's part of our success. … We are all closer on the court because of it. Coach Witte is awesome, and she has definitely left a great legacy here."
It's a legacy that has featured hundreds of wins, hundreds of accolades and hundreds of players, and Hostetler is one that stands out.