Growing Up Hawkeye

Nov. 15, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — They grew up together. They played volleyball together. And now — though not nearly as much fun — they’re rehabbing together.

Iowa City natives Kari Mueller and Alli O’Deen thought they had met playing club volleyball at the ancient age of 10, but they later discovered they were one-time preschool pals after an old childhood photo surfaced. They also said they didn’t particularly like each other when they first reunited on the court. But today, eight years later, they’re best of friends and freshman roommates on the University of Iowa volleyball team.

“We were both competing for the starting setter position and didn’t really get along,” O’Deen said of their first club volleyball encounter. “But while we were competing we found out we actually liked each other, and we’ve been friends ever since.”

They also found out they weren’t setters. O’Deen earned all-state honors while competing as an outside hitter for Iowa City West High in 2009 and 2010. Mueller was named conference player of the year and earned all-state honors as a libero while playing for Iowa City High. No longer fighting for the same position and instead fighting for rival schools, they decided to extend their volleyball careers at the University of Iowa, where, unfortunately, they now find themselves battling injuries.

O’Deen was shelved prior to the season with meniscus tear in her left knee. She was expected to challenge for a spot in Iowa’s starting rotation, but has since undergone surgery and set her sights on a healthy 2012. Mueller earned five starts while playing in 19 matches before a stress fracture in her left foot forced her to the sideline. This week, she’ll have a screw surgically inserted in her foot and will miss the rest of the season.

“It’s hard watching when you know you can contribute when the team is down,” said Mueller. “I felt really privileged to be on the floor early in the season, but now I’m seeing the court from a different perspective. I try to help out with the little things and give some feedback. I’m not going to sit back and not do anything with the injury. I’m doing whatever I can to help the team.”

“My rehab went well,” said O’Deen, who had a menisectomy in September. “It was slower than I had hoped, but I expect to be back in about a week, and I’m very excited about returning. I’m going to continue to work hard over the winter and prepare myself to make an impact in the spring.”

Both players also take comfort in knowing they’re not alone. They have each other to lean on mentally, emotionally and physically, but they also have the support of their teammates. Both players attend every practice, video session and training table. They have their usual seat on the team bus. Mueller, coincidently, sits immediately behind the athletic trainer. O’Deen typically sits right across the aisle. They make every road trip and join their teammates at every conference venue scattered throughout Big Ten country.

“I don’t think anyone’s injury has made them feel a lesser part of this team,” said Mueller. “We have great support, and it feels really good knowing you have teammates that still care for you and support you. This new perspective has helped me. I’m doing everything I can to get better, and I’m excited to return in the spring.”

The Hawkeye spring semester begins in late January. The 2012 spring competition schedule begins in late March or early April. Whenever that day comes, Mueller and O’Deen will return to what they’ve been doing since their childhood days at preschool — they’ll play together.