24: UI volleyball has a star from the Lone Star State

Aug. 19, 2008

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Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 7, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2008-09 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Before the University of Iowa kicks off the 2008 volleyball season, it would be interesting to analyze a hypothetical riddle: If Texas is known as the Lone Star State, then who is the substitute when Aimee Huffman is attending classes in Iowa City and roaming the courts of the Big Ten Conference?

Huffman, a sophomore setter/right-side hitter, is certainly a star when it comes to the Hawkeyes and the sport of volleyball. The highly-decorated prep from Poth, Texas, is eager to begin preparation for the upcoming season.

“Last year everything was so hectic not knowing what to expect and being anxious and everything,” Huffman said. “I kind of went back and forth from position to position and I never could get comfortable. Being my second year, I know how things work and I have a better idea of what my role on the team will be.”

After a stellar high school career, Huffman was named American Volleyball Coaches Association and prepvolleyball.com All-American. She led her team to three consecutive state championships from 2004-06. But instead of remaining in Texas to attend college, she ventured north to the Hawkeye State. As a collegiate rookie Huffman played 107 games and started 29 of 31 matches. She was third on the team with 192 kills (1.79 per game) and was second on the team with 249 assists (2.33) and 21 ace serves (0.20).

“Aimee is a very pure athlete,” UI head coach Sharon Dingman said. “She makes the game look easy. She makes physical training look easy. Aimee could probably play any position on the court and be successful. Any time you see a player with that athletic ability and that volleyball skill, you say, `Whoa, that’s a special volleyball player right there.'”

Poth, a community of approximately 1,200 people in southern Texas, is still within reach of the Hawkeye Nation. Aimee’s mother, Nella, is a 1983 graduate of the University of Iowa and her father, David, grew up in Iowa City. Aimee’s grandparents still reside in Iowa City.

“I have family here, so that played probably a bigger role in me coming to Iowa than the fact my mom graduated from here,” Huffman said. “I like the whole atmosphere in general. I love Iowa City and of course the campus is great and the school is really appealing. It’s known world-wide for its academics and that was a big factor in me coming here.”

If UI academics were the hook, then volleyball was the bait. Huffman enjoys the challenge of competing in the Big Ten Conference.

“Aimee is a very pure athlete. She makes the game look easy. She makes physical training look easy. Aimee could probably play any position on the court and be successful. Any time you see a player with that athletic ability and that volleyball skill, you say, `Whoa, that’s a special volleyball player right there.'”
UI head coach
Sharon Dingman

“This is one of the best conferences in the nation and the competition is great,” she said. “Every team is tough and you have to get out there and play hard and you’re going to be up against the best players.”

Last season Iowa bolted quickly from the gate and won five of its first six matches and eight of 11 before beginning the conference schedule. The Hawkeyes upset Michigan, 3-2, on Sept. 28 for their only Big Ten victory during a campaign where they compiled an overall record of 9-22. Head coach Cindy Fredrick resigned and Dingman, who has won more than 61-percent of her matches during a 17-year career, was hired on March 25, 2008.

“We had already gone through most of our spring season,” Huffman said. “We were just anxious to get someone in there. Once Coach Dingman got here it was a nice change to have things organized and have that leadership back again. We’re all really excited.”

Huffman likes what she has seen during the short time she has been around Dingman and the rest of the coaching staff.

“They have confidence in us,” Huffman said. “They also seem confident that they know what they’re doing and they know what it will take for us to get back on track.”

In turn, Dingman appreciates the way Huffman has grasped the instruction from the new staff.

“Aimee is like a sponge,” Dingman said. “She is soaking everything up that we’ve been teaching and she’s excited about having that type of responsibility.”

Iowa graduated just on player — Stacy Vitale — from the 2007 team.

“For the most part we’ll have our team back,” Huffman said. “Just having the team chemistry and knowing that we all went through it last year and having that bond of the different hardships we encountered together last year. We all want to get more wins out there and have fun playing together. I want to get back to having fun and being able to go out there comfortably and play hard.”

Many times outstanding high school players become lost in the shuffle because of the demands of a college academic and athletic schedule. That hasn’t happened to Huffman.

“Of course there are a lot of differences between high school and college, but I don’t think I was taken too much by surprise because I played club for so many years at such a high level,” Huffman said. “The competition level was definitely different. It was also different as far as balancing my school and volleyball. The practices are longer and then you have college school work. Now I know how to balance my time a little better.”

Huffman returned home to Poth for part of the summer, but was back in Iowa City in July.

“I came back early because I wanted to focus on working out, relaxing and enjoying the rest of the summer before we start up again,” she said.

Iowa opens the season Aug. 29 at the Hampton Inn/Bama Bash against Nicholls State in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The home-opener is Sept. 19 against the University of Portland. That will be the first of five consecutive home matches for the Hawkeyes.

For Iowa to complete a successful rebuilding season in 2008, it will rely heavily on the productivity from Huffman. In other words, the Hawkeyes will lean on their star from the Lone Star State.