HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL: REBUILDING FOR SUCCESS
By BRANDON HURLEY
EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this story incorrectly quoted Greene County head coach Chris Heisterkamp. It has now been corrected.
Momentum is a curious thing in high school athletics. Secure it and watch the victories pile up, but crumble under the pressure and disaster may strike.
The Greene County volleyball program hopes to lean on last season’s late surge as a rallying cry, believing it can carry over to 2021. The notion of momentum is vital for a unit lacking a clear offensive threat. Greene County head coach Chris Heisterkamp is zeroing in on the Rams’ potential for success despite a somewhat inexperienced roster in 2021.
The school’s first postseason victory in several years last fall was a testament to perseverance and dedication, two key points the coach believes can be ingrained into the future of the program. Greene County defeated Southeast Valley in a five-set thriller last October, punctuating an up and down season. Though the Rams won just eight games in 2020, they secured the aforementioned elusive postseason win, which will certainly come in handy as the Heart of Iowa Conference squad takes aim at a rebuild.
Realizing wins can be attained is instrumental for a roster returning just five letter-winners. The key is sustaining that confidence and allowing it to bleed into the next generation. Heisterkamp was pleased with the Rams’ resiliency a year ago and believes it could be a vital rallying cry this fall.
“Last year’s first round win is a reminder of what we can do if we work together and don’t give up when things get shaky,” Heisterkamp said. “With only five returning letter winners, we have quite a few unknowns heading into the season, and a few positions that are still up in the air.
To start this year, we’ve put a lot of focus on building a positive team culture, striving to pursue the goal to work and think as one.”
The Rams lost nearly 70 percent of last season’s kills when Brianna Osterson (245 kills) and Lilly Muir graduated (141) in the spring, leaving a significant hole in terms of offensive production. It’s time for athletes such as Isabella Schroeder (87 kills as a sophomore) and Natalie Heupel (45 kills and 343 assists as a sophomore) to step up and take control of the team along with other key contributors, the likes of which include Katrina Heupel (31 kills) Brianna Habben and Kaylee Stalder. The cupboards certainly aren’t bare even after losing nearly 400 kills. Heisterkamp has been pleased with what she’s witnessed in practice during the early season sessions. Placing more of the responsibility of success on the athletes has been eye-opening, the coach said.
“We have some big roles to fill after losing our top two scorers from last year, but it’s been exciting to see the enthusiasm this year’s group has already brought to the gym,” Heisterkamp said. “We have identified the need to develop a foundation of trust and communication, and though it may push some outside of their comfort zone, these girls have embraced the task of forming a connection with one another.
The focus has been on what each player can contribute to the team so that, when all pooled together, we believe we can accomplish great things together.”
Height shouldn’t be an issue, as four Rams stand above 5’10” along with a handful of others who sport significant leaping ability, providing a solid front court. Blocks should see an uptick while many of the returning Ram athletes have committed to offseason growth, playing in various tournaments and attending camp. Not only will experience play a key role this fall, but Heisterkamp feels an increased togetherness with a focus on teamwork and goal-setting could pay significant dividends as well.
“That extra experience is very evident in practice and has helped to drive a faster pace so far,” Heisterkamp said. “We have juniors and seniors that are stepping up as small group leaders. The topic of ‘connecting as a team.’ has been a daily focus. We have taken big steps to change our team culture, setting standards and expectations of selflessness, communication, maximum effort and unity.”
Without a large selection of athletes who have experience as the focal point of an offense, figuring out proper roations will be a bit of a struggle. The key, Heisterkamp said, is improving in-game instincts, which can include simple tasks such as more deliberate passing and putting theirselves in the right positions to succeed.
Natalie Heupel ranked third in the Heart of Iowa Conference in assists last fall while Schroeder’s 31 blocks placed her in a tie for ninth. The pieces are there, it’s simply whether the Rams can put the entire puzzle together or not.
“A top priority will be to get better at reading on defense,” Heisterkamp said. “We know what we’re supposed to do, it’s just a matter of (responding) quicker to the opponent’s attack, working together to identify it sooner and (communicating) as a team to answer back strategically.”
Greene County isn’t simply focused on victories, either. Their mission is to develop a positive culture centered around Ram pride and the aforementioned collective togetherness.
Nothing is stronger than a team bond.
“The goal is to establish a culture that demonstrates our pride as Greene County athletes, our commitment to the team and to each other,” Heisterkamp said. “One that calls athletes to come up higher, as individuals and as teammates. If we can focus on giving our best effort, with a willingness to selflessly let our skills shine for the team, we’ll experience success every day.”
The Rams opened the 2021 slate Tuesday with home wins over Collins-Maxwell and Glidden-Ralston. Greene County hosts Fort Dodge St. Edmond at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 26 in Jefferson.