Sept. 14, 2005
Freshmen are usually at the bottom of the food chain. Being a freshman means cleaning up after the upperclassmen, spending extra hours in the weight room, and taking the worst seats on the bus during road trips.
More importantly, freshmen are usually expected to wait their turn before they contribute to a program. Whether it’s their youth, inexperience, or just because they are “freshmen,” there always seems to be a reason to keep them off the court.
But the seven freshmen on this year’s volleyball team don’t fit the typical freshmen mold.
This year’s class of Felicia Booth, Kiley Fister, Laura Gustin, Emily Hiza, Laura Kremer, Mary Puck and Catherine Smale was ranked as the 30th best recruiting class in the country by PrepVolleyball.com before the season. Members of the class were glittered with all-Conference, all-State, and even all-America honors during successful high school and club volleyball careers.
Coach Cindy Fredrick says these seven are as good as advertised and have already made an impact on this year’s team.
“We’ve been really pleased with their progress and the work they’ve put in so far,” says Fredrick. “It has made a world of difference in our practices and it has made practices much more competitive.”
Fredrick has also been impressed with their adjustment to college life at the same time they’re adjusting to division one volleyball.
“I think there’s a lot more pressure on fall sport kids because they have to adjust right now. They have to practice two-a-days in the fall and they have no time to settle in,” says the second-year coach. “I think it’s a lot harder than it is for the winter student-athletes.”
Three of the seven freshmen are currently starting. Fister starts at setter, Smale is an outside hitter, and Hiza is the libero.
The three starters have noticed a big difference in making the jump from high school to college volleyball. The speed of the college game is much quicker and it requires more strategy.
“It’s an entirely different system than what we’re used to playing,” says Hiza. “A lot of younger volleyball is about dishing to the outside. Here it’s a lot more about mixing it up, smart playing, and strategy. It’s not about bombing balls.”
These freshmen are happy to have a starting job for the Hawkeyes, but they aren’t surprised that they are seeing playing time. After the recruiting process, they knew that with hard work they might be able to contribute right away.
“(Coach Fredrick) told me that I should be prepared to be on the floor immediately. A lot of my friends playing in the Big Ten didn’t have that opportunity,” says Smale. “Being able to go out as a freshmen is kind of stressful at first, but having two other freshmen out there make it so much better.”
Fredrick is quick to add that it isn’t just the starters that have performed well. All seven freshmen have helped the team jump out to its 6-3 start.
“It’s not just the three starters. The contribution that the freshmen are making is because of their talent level and because of their dedication to the sport,” says Fredrick. “I think it also says a lot about their intelligence level because they have been able to do so much right now and they’ve been able to adjust really well.”
The highly-touted freshmen hope they can get the Iowa program on the winning track. The freshmen are well aware that the program has had losing seasons in 12 of the past 14 years, but they aren’t afraid to set their career goals high.
“Sometime in the next couple of years we want to be in the top half of the Big Ten,” says Hiza.
“Hopefully by our senior year we can get into the NCAA Tournament,” says Fister.
This year’s freshmen class is one of the best in recent school history, but it didn’t happen by accident. Fredrick knows that good recruiting is fundamental to good teams. Recruiting was important to Fredrick’s 10 NCAA tournament appearances at Washington State and it has been one of her top priorities since she came to Iowa.
“From the minute I got to Iowa, I was in Chicago recruiting,” says Fredrick. “Literally, my boss at Iowa had to take me to the Hawk Shop to get me gear because I was leaving the next day to go recruiting and I had no Hawkeye clothes. When I got here I hit the ground running with recruiting. There was no other way to do it.”
The Hawkeyes will be back in action this weekend in Conway, South Carolina, for the Coastal Carolina Tournament.
By Brett Roberts, Iowa Sports Information