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People knew Casey Dunn as a solid all-around player for the Highlands Bluebirds volleyball team.
But Dunn transitioned to a defensive specialist role for the NCAA Division III Hanover College Panthers (Indiana) of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference as a freshman. The 2020 Highlands graduate finished third on the team with 94 digs this spring. Hanover is located in southeast Indiana across the Ohio River from Trimble County.
Dunn faced some top-notch opponents in her three years on varsity at Highlands. But Dunn said her club and Amateur Athletic Union volleyball experiences helped her adjust to the speed of the NCAA Division III level because both had faster paces than high school volleyball.
"There are still so many times where I was just surprised the ball was coming at me a lot faster than I'd ever been thrown at," Dunn said. "You have to stay in your spot and just make changes. You make a mistake and you have to fix it the next go-around pretty much."
Dunn stands at 5-feet-7-inches. Dunn also had two kills, seven assists and eight aces for the Panthers.
"Casey is a competitor. Every practice, every scrimmage and every match, I know she will fight for ever ball," said Peter Preocanin, Hanover Head Coach. "More importantly, her teammates know she will bring her A game. They respect her commitment to the team and improving her game. It is all about attitude and effort. Casey brings her best in everything she does. I am excited to see her continue to grow over her next three years at Hanover!"
Hanover also runs a 5-1 offense like Highlands. Dunn said the Panthers like to run a fast offense.
"That put me in a spot where I had to be reading a little bit more and just kind of expecting balls that I never would have thought so I can really get the ball up to my setter," Dunn said. "You have to be out there making little decisions really fast."
Hanover finished 12-5 overall and 5-4 in HCAC action good for sixth out of 10 teams. The top four finishers during the regular season made the HCAC Tournament. Transylvania University in Lexington won the tournament this spring. The season moved to the spring because of the Coronavirus 2019 pandemic.
Preocanin has been the head coach of the Panthers since 2000. He'd been an assistant the previous four seasons. That continuity is one of the reasons Dunn decided to attend Hanover.
The Panthers won the HCAC Tournament and regular season crowns in 2007 and 2017. Hanover also won regular season crowns in 2011, 2015 and 2016.
Dunn hopes that a year of team bonding will help the Panthers rise back to that level. Hanover could not do much during the off-season because of the Coronavirus 2019 pandemic.
"There were times where we were working together as one. We were really on during those moments," Dunn said. "But there were many moments where we were kind of too many individuals on a court. We have the talent and (dedication). We just need to work together as one. The season was shorter. It was kind of a weird year."
The players had to wear masks on the court. Fans including parents were also not able to attend the games.
Dunn will be a sophomore this season. She said players have an extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic. But she is not sure what she will do with it yet.
Dunn is majoring in a pre-med Kinesiology and Integrated Physiology. While many institutions had classes online during the 2020-21 academic school year, Dunn said the majority of her classes were in person. Hanover has an undergraduate enrollment of 1,070. Hanover has a fall semester, winter semester before going to a spring semester in May where students take an extra class.
"I really liked the small classroom and being able to talk with your professor," Dunn said. "All my professors knew who I was. They were comfortable talking with me. I was comfortable talking with them asking them questions, sending them e-mails. I just liked being in a small community almost. It was almost like it's own little town. Everybody kind of knows each other. Everybody loves hanging out with each other. I just liked that small town feeling."
Dunn said she finished her first year with around a 3.75 grade-point average on a four-point scale. She credited Highlands for preparing her well academically.
"I feel like the bigger part is how you manage your time and how you study," Dunn said. "It wasn't a huge adjustment."
Dunn made it down to Lexington to see the Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team win its first state championship April 1-3. Her brother Adam played on the team that finished 30-4 winning 21 straight on the way to the crown. Adam Dunn will be a junior this year.
"I am so happy for them," Casey Dunn said. "That was my first basketball game that season going to watch them play. It was crazy to go there and see them all playing together as one. I loved it for my brother because he wasn't sure if he wanted to play basketball or not this past season. He decided to play and he really liked it."
Hanover opens its season Sept. 1 against Spalding University in Louisville. Game time is 7 p.m. The Panthers have some tournaments scheduled this fall.