Volleyball Preview: Youth turns to experience as Rams’ familiarity rises
By Brandon Hurley
Comfort plays a key role in any competition.
Whether doing battle in a friendly game of ping pong or a pressure filled volleyball match, doubt is never welcome.
The ability to remove the anxiety of a big time showdown and just play is the desired mission for any high school athlete.
Greene County volleyball coach Chris Heisterkamp, with a year under her belt coaxing her young Ram athletes, believes the program’s surplus of setters, passers and outside hitters has given way to sky-high confidence.
It’s why the second year coach knows Greene County will take a big leap this fall.
Despite winning just seven games a year ago, the Rams return all but two of their athletes who played at least 50 sets last fall. Greene County, as a whole, returns 353 kills and 724 digs from last year’s team.
That notion, along with the added experience of another full varsity season, is why Heisterkamp feels a breakout is brewing. The increased familiarity has carried over most notably in Greene County’s warm ups prior to competition. They’ve really bonded together as one unit.
“I can tell having a year of varsity experience together has made a difference in our pre-competition readiness,” Heisterkamp said. “We have had three pre-season scrimmages, and you can see that the girls don’t get stressed out like they did last year. I’m hoping that experience carries over into our season as we start competition.”
Lily Muir enters her junior season as Greene County’s top outside hitter. She ranked ninth in the Heart of Iowa Conference with 152 kills last fall, which produced the fifth best kills per set mark at 2.2. Senior Aubrey Heupel ranked sixth in the league with 0.42 aces per set while she was also sixth with a team-leading 362 assists. The Rams must replace the imposing presence of Luisa Slompo, who contributed 139 kills as a junior, the 13th-best mark in the conference while recording 39 blocks, also the 13th-best total in the league.
Brianna Osterson could become a nice second option in her junior year. She recorded 74 kills last fall in addition to 136 digs. Muir led the Rams with 170 digs, an efficiency of 2.46 digs per set to go with 17 blocks. That’s quite a haul from a unit that’s itching to take the next step.
Heisterkamp’s most thrilled with the team’s improvement. She witnessed significant growth in the offseason. A number of athletes put in the time during open gym and weight-lifting sessions, which should pay off as the season gets underway. There was less of a learning curve this time around as Heisterkamp initiated fall practices.
“Many were fully prepared to go hard the first day of practice. They easily handled the drills I had ready for them the first few days, so I had to come come up with some drills that were more challenging,” the coach said. “It feels like we were able to dive into some issues that were beyond the basic foundational skills earlier than we were able to last year.”
Heisterkamp expects a big contribution from Muir. She’s got the potential to become a star. The junior is now entering her third year in the system. The 2018 second team all conference player is ready to make the leap. Her remarkable intelligence combined with Heupel’s improved understanding of the offense should provide quite the dynamic duo this fall.
“(Lily Muir) is a smart player, and and knows when to use her strength and when to take some heat off to drop it into the hole,” Heisterkamp said. “Aubrey Heupel has been putting up more hittable balls right and left, so I expect her to be all over the court, opening up great options for our hitters.
Heisterkamp continued, “Lily can do amazing things as a left side hitter. She is working with Aubrey to tweak their quicker attacks, which takes near-perfect timing to pull off. When they are on, it’s very hard to defend.”
Sprinkle in an improved depth and Heisterkamp feels Greene County should crack the double-digit win plateau with relative ease. Osterson and Harleigh will provide some reliable back line strength as they enter year three as well.
“Brianna will be a force in the middle. She is very quick at the net, and I can see her getting many blocks and a hit from all areas of the net this year,” Heisterkamp said. “Harleigh Weir is solid as our left all-around player and can react quickly to all sorts of situations. (She) is one of those players who will do what it takes to keep the ball in play. She contributes greatly to our serve receive passing.”
Greene County opened the year with a home triangular against Glidden-Ralston and Collins-Maxwell Tuesday night. The Rams travel north for the first tournament of the year Saturday, Aug. 31 in Lake City. As the season is quickly heats up, Heisterkamp is focused on the future. As her girls understand the sport even more, she expects the Rams to have fun playing as well.
“Of course, we’d like to win more matches than last year, but we also want to enjoy the journey, and not stress so much during competition,” the coach said. “We’ve been focusing on staying in the battle, and not giving up hope after setbacks. The pre-season scrimmages have shown us things that still need work, and I am confident the girls will embrace the work that is needed to get tougher in certain areas.”
Gilbert enters Heart of Iowa Conference play as the clear cut favorite, ranked 11th overall in the 4A rankings. Though just 21-28 a year ago, the Tigers a pair of hitters in Thea Rotto and Haleigh Hadley who combined for 628 kills a year ago while Hadley tallied a league-best 90 blocks in addition to Emma Bulman’s 70 blocks, which ranked her third in the league as a sophomore. Gilbert’s top nine hitters return while four of their top five service women are back as well.
Greene County will travel to the Tigers on September 19. The Rams ability to recover from emotional losses will certainly be a telling factor of how could they can become.
“I think their commitment to mental preparation will help them focus better and bounce back quicker in competition,” Heisterkamp said. “Now it’s just a matter of putting all the parts together to show what we can accomplish as a team.”