24 Hawkeyes to Watch: Bethany Yeager

Aug. 20, 2012

Worth Watching: B. Yeager

Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Monday, Aug. 6, 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 2012-13 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 — As long as University of Iowa defensive specialist Bethany Yeager makes a dig to extend a Hawkeye rally, she doesn’t care if she takes a volleyball off her face or covers her body in bumps and bruises.

That determination and reckless abandonment on the court that has made Yeager, a 5-foot-7 Houston, Texas, native, one of the top defensive specialists in the Big Ten Conference.

“Volleyball is a tough sport because you’re going at it 100 percent, all the time,” said Yeager. “At the defensive specialist position, all of us get beat up pretty bad, but that’s what we choose, and we love it. I didn’t choose to be short, but I’d choose the position anyway.

“You have to be tough and willing to get some cuts, bruises, blood… whatever it takes to get the ball up off the floor.”

It is that toughness that has allowed Yeager to start all 62 matches and appear in 228-of-229 sets in her first two years as a Hawkeye. She led the team in digs both seasons, racking up 989.

“Bethany has little regard when it comes to keeping the ball alive,” said UI head coach Sharon Dingman, who is entering her fifth season with the program. “We always tease her that she’s a 300-a-day Band-Aid kid. If it’s not me or the athletic trainer saying you need to shut it down, she would never shut it down. That’s her mentality, and she doesn’t know any different.”

Yeager’s give-it-your-all attitude came from being a “gym rat” with her mother, and future volleyball coach, Debbie, as a youngster at Brenham (Texas) High School.

As an outside hitter, Yeager was a prep standout, being named to the prepvolleyball.com Senior Aces “Top 150” list as a senior. She was also an AVCA Under Armour Girls High School honorable mention All-American and the All-Greater Houston MVP.

When Yeagers’s club coach — current UI assistant Jason Allen — took a coaching position with the Hawkeyes, that sparked her interest in venturing into Big Ten country. The tie ended up paying off.

“Essentially recruiting Bethany started the day I hired Jason,” said Dingman. “We knew she was skilled, but when you’re trying to build a program it is so often the intangibles, and that’s how we wanted to build.

“The character, work ethic, passion for the game — she has all of those. She’s everything you want to build a program around, and that has certainly been proven true by her work ethic, character and everything else.”

Yeager stepped in as a freshman and produced. She led the team and ranked fourth in the Big Ten with 4.36 digs per set, and reached double-digit dig totals in 24-of-29 matches. She continued her solid play as a sophomore, accumulating 527 digs and tallying 20 or more digs in 10 matches.

“I am not devaluing her, but that was our expectation when we recruited her,” said Dingman of Yeager starting from day one. “We knew we needed someone, with a (former Hawkeye) Megan Eskew, to change what we were trying to do from a work ethic standpoint. “

It has been Yeager’s work ethic that Dingman says has been the biggest component in helping change the mentality within the Iowa program.

“The culture has changed so much and all the credit goes to her,” said Dingman. “It’s natural for our team to come in early and get extra reps. Bethany has laid that foundation for our program. That’s what we were hoping, we knew we needed and wanted Bethany to be, and she’s been every bit that.

“Sometimes we have to shut her down. We find out we’ve played a weekend of Big Ten matches, and we find out she has come in to our practice facility Sunday and got reps in passing. At some point you have to shut down mentally, but her work ethic doesn’t allow her to shut down. Everything she does is full force.”

Yeager, along with senior Allison Straumann and junior Nikki Dailey, will serve as Iowa’s team captains in 2012; it is a role she embraces.

“The past two years, I was an underclassman who was fortunate to play a lot, and the coaches believed in and trusted in me,” said Yeager. “Now that we’re the upperclassmen, it’s time for us to step up and be leaders. I hope the coaches believe in us as much as we believe in ourselves.

“Leadership is going to come from a lot of different places this year. It is not going to be one of us on top telling everybody what to do. It’s going to be all of us working together. I know the coaches expect a lot out of me, and I am ready to take on that role.”

Yeager isn’t shy about expressing her goals for the Hawkeyes this and next season before she finishes her career in an Iowa uniform. She wants to climb in the Big Ten standings and play in the NCAA tournament.

“We have big dreams, and I know that’s going to take more work than anything,” said Yeager. “It’s going to take some luck too, but we want to do a lot for this program over the next two years, and we have potential on this team.

“We have one goal in mind, and I hope our class leaves on a good note and can help turn around this program with a hard work ethic.”

If Yeager pursues those goals the same way she sacrifices her body in pursuit of digs, then the Hawkeyes will have a chance.

Iowa opens the regular season Friday, hosting Chicago State in the opening match of the Hawkeye Challenge on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.