Heldman digs Eagles out of rough start

Pat Hickey

For USI volleyball defensive specialist Kayla Heldman, the primary focus during the season is on the success of her team, as opposed to personal accolades and accomplishments.

It’s hard to ignore the accomplishments that Heldman has garnered since coming to USI in 2010 as a freshman from Greenwood, Ind. The most recent milestone for the junior was when she recorded her 1,000th collegiate dig in a 3-0 shutout over Quincy on Oct. 6.

“I try and focus on my one-sixth of the floor and what I need to do to help my team win,” Heldman said. “I try to add to the intensity on the court.”

So far, that formula has worked to perfection for Heldman. She has recorded two 24-dig matches already this season in victories against Southwest Oklahoma State and St. Joseph’s. USI volleyball head coach Leah Mercer thinks there is plenty more to come.


 

“I think she can push to 500 or 750 more (digs),” Mercer said. “She’s an incredible athlete with a great work ethic, and we are lucky to have her.”

Mercer says the accomplishment of recording a 1000th dig is “incredible” and gives credit to Heldman’s defense as a reason why she has accumulated so many already in her career.

“She’s naturally a great defender and her volleyball IQ is really high,” Mercer said. “She really understands the game and gets better every year.”

Heldman said the accomplishments she collects could not have been done without her teammates.

“It’s something I’ve been working towards (by myself), but I could not have done it without my team,” she said. “With everyone else helping, I was able to accomplish it.”

Along with Heldman’s success, her team has been making strides after a tough start that saw the Eagles (10-11) drop its first seven contests – each of them coming on the road or on neutral ground. Since its difficult start, USI has won 10 of its last 14 matches and currently sits at 7-2 in Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) play, which places the Eagles in a tie for second place with Lewis University. Both teams are two games back of first-place Indianapolis in the GLVC Eastern division.

Mercer credits her team for fighting through a rash of injuries that created a major hurdle early in the season.

“Injuries are completely out of your control, unfortunately,” Mercer said. “Luckily, we have a lot of athletic kids who are very flexible.”

As the second half of the conference season begins this weekend at Missouri-St. Louis, Heldman said she doesn’t feel any added pressure collecting digs as she continues to try and break the school record. For her, it’s all about team results over personal numbers.

“It’s all about being a good teammate,” Heldman said. “That’s the most important (part).”