Sept. 11, 2013
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — With her academic and athletic ability, junior Erin Leppek is a poster child for University of Iowa volleyball.
“Erin is a great example of everything we want in our student-athletes,” said UI head coach Sharon Dingman. “She is dedicated to becoming a better volleyball player, works hard in the gym every day, and academically, she performs off the charts. She is dedicated to excellence and embodies everything we hope for.”
Leppek has been a steady contributor for the UI volleyball program since arriving in 2011. She has played 57 matches and 147 total sets, tallying 127 kills and 76 blocks. Off the court, the middle blocker has thrived academically as a biomedical engineering major.
Growing up, Leppek wasn’t introduced to volleyball until seventh grade when she picked the sport up by following in friends’ footsteps. She played soccer the nine years prior and dabbled in diving, but once she started with volleyball, she was hooked.
As a freshman in high school, Leppek got involved with the Michigan Elite club team and her playing ability and college recruitment took off.
“Volleyball was growing in Michigan at that time and there weren’t many club teams,” said Leppek. “I was playing club basketball, and I saw them playing volleyball on a different court. I was like, ‘Mom, how do I play there?’
“We couldn’t find any information on it. It was the best-kept secret around.”
From there, Leppek went all in on volleyball.
She started four years in high school, earning 2010-11 Under Armour Honorable Mention All-America honors, while also being a two-time all-region and three-time all-conference selection. Leppek led the Michigan Elite to a national title at the 2010 USA Volleyball National Championships and a fifth-place showing at the AAU National Championships.
When Dingman saw Leppek’s athletic ability, her jumping stood out.
“The first thing I saw was her jump… really high,” said Dingman. “I thought those are the type of athletes we need to build our volleyball program. The more I got to know Erin, I was convinced we wanted her in our program. She wants to excel in everything she does.”
Leppek played 23 matches with nine starts as a middle blocker in 2011. She finished the year with 34 kills, including a career-best nine against Chicago State. She also had 16 blocks.
When her sophomore season rolled around, Leppek transitioned to the outside/right side hitter position. She went on to post career-bests in kills (69), hitting percentage (.155) and blocks (42).
“I started my seventh grade career as a setter, so I have played every position except libero, and I am not sure you want me in that position,” said Leppek with a laugh. “I love to play, so I’ll do whatever it takes.”
This season, Leppek is on the move again, returning to her role in the middle. She has 24 kills in the team’s first six matches with a career-best .273 hitting percentage to go along with 18 blocks.
“You know the cliché; she’s willing to do anything for the team? That has been Erin,” said Dingman. “She hasn’t complained, hasn’t said a word (about the moves).
“Erin wants to be on the court, so she is going to play where ever gives her the best opportunity to play. The middle is a more natural position for her and it allows us to utilize her best skill, blocking, to her fullest potential and our greatest advantage.”
While Leppek’s transition on the court for the Hawkeyes went through moving parts, she knew early the path she wanted to take academically in college.
“I always leaned toward math and sciences,” said Leppek. “My dad was an engineer, so he led me down the engineering path. When I took biology and anatomy/physiology in high school, I liked that subject too, so it led me to biomedical engineering.”
Dingman doesn’t know how Leppek handles the rigors of playing Division I volleyball and exceling in such a trying major.
“It amazes me what she can do,” said Dingman. “One thing that helps Erin is her ability to compartmentalize, when she’s in the gym, she’s in the gym. When she’s in class, she’s in class. She isn’t thinking about transitioning out of the middle or what they worked on in blocking that day.
“She has a tremendous ability to focus on the task at hand.”
Leppek says the key to the balancing act isn’t over-extending herself.
“My freshman year I came in thinking I needed to do a lot of work all the time, so right after class if I had an hour break, I would try to knock out homework for one class,” said Leppek, a 2012 Academic All-Big Ten and Dean’s List honoree. “I would take the next hour break as time to myself, and then work hard for another hour. Not overwhelming myself helps.”
Dingman says Leppek is an example of being a complete student and athlete.
“She embodies everything we want in every aspect from her work ethic to clearly she’s gifted as an athlete and academically,” said Dingman. “She is utilizing those gifts to her fullest potential.
“Erin hasn’t settled in just being a good athlete playing volleyball. She has worked hard to become a better volleyball player. Erin hasn’t settled on being a student and using her given abilities, she works hard to excel in that area beyond what another biomedical engineering major may be doing.
“In a couple of years when she is an (Iowa) alum, the university is going to be very proud of Erin.”
The Iowa volleyball program is proud to have a player and scholar like Leppek. She’s a poster child for what being a Hawkeye volleyball student-athlete is all about.
Iowa opens its 2013 home slate this weekend, hosting the five-team Hawkeye Challenge on Sept. 13-14 on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes face Drake and Ball State on Friday and Western Illinois and Illinois Chicago on Saturday.