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G-R alums making their mark with Hawkeye volleyball

October 24, 2019
By CJ Eilers CIP , Reinbeck Courier

As Gladbrook-Reinbeck volleyball prepares for the postseason with the goal of returning to the State Volleyball Tournament, three former Rebels-Paige Eiffler, Justina Eggers and Meriah Wittgreve-have found a new volleyball family together at Hawkeye Community College and are making the most of their continued careers.

When Hawkeye Community College announced it was adding volleyball to its growing sports program in 2017, the initial coaching staff focused much of its efforts into recruiting locally. Reinbeck's Paige Eiffler had just wrapped up her senior year at Gladbrook-Reinbeck, leading the Rebels from a 8-27 season in 2016 to 23 wins in 2017 and accepted to play at Hawkeye. She would take on the challenge of developing a program once again as the Redtails surprised the junior volleyball level with a 18-8 record and national rankings throughout their inaugural season.

"It was a super fun experience to be part of that very first team at Hawkeye," Eiffler said. "We had an amazing season and you could tell we had a good connection on the court."

Article Photos

(From left to right): Paige Eiffler, Meriah Wittgreve and Justina Eggers all have contributed to the Hawkeye Community College volleyball this season and have enjoyed playing together again for the first time since 2017 at Gladbrook-Reinbeck

Eiffler would be named All-Conference Honorable Mention in 2018. Perhaps more importantly to the program, she would be a recruiting catalyst as former G-R teammates Justina Eggers and Meriah Wittgreve later committed to join her on the 2019 team as the program grew in numbers for its second season. Wittgreve had initially committed to play for the Dutch at Central College, yet personal things arose and Morrison native chose to play closer to home. She talked with Eiffler and decided it would be fun to join her former teammate at Hawkeye and continue playing the sport she loves.

"I've been playing volleyball since I can remember and I've played every season from club, high school, to beach volleyball," Wittgreve said. "The sport has really changed my life and shaped me into who I am today. It's matured me and is special to me."

Wittgreve would get the start at middle hitter for the Redtails in her first season on campus, posting 39 kills, 15 digs and six blocks in early season matches. In addition to playing with Eiffler and Eggers, the freshman also found herself paired with former club volleyball teammates.

"My mindset going into this was always be the hardest person working in the gym: be the first one to show up and the last one to leave," Wittgreve said. "I feel that helped me have early success this season. Having familiar faces, including club teammates with me here, made the transition easier into something bigger than what I'm used to."

However, an ankle injury and later a broken finger would derail her freshman season after playing nine matches. Her return to the court was not possible for the fall, yet that didn't stop Wittgreve from supporting her teammates and coaches.

"This is actually one of the first years of volleyball I've been hurt this much," Wittgreve said. "It's been a mental struggle because I've never sat out this long in a season. It's been my challenge to step into a role of cheering on my teammates."

One of those teammates is Eggers, who received additional playing time as the season has come along. Eggers has recorded 28 kills, 22 digs and eight blocks in 13 matches this season.

"When I started the season off not playing, I just thought about bettering myself in practice and showing the coaches what I could do," Eggers said. "I needed to be positive on the bench because being negative in front of everyone can definitely impact the team on the court."

Being on a college volleyball court originally wasn't in the cards for Eggers, a resident of rural Traer. She had the intention of going right into a four-year college for an education degree, but a change of heart led her to go the junior college route first. Knowing that Eiffler was on the team, Eggers sent an email to the coaching staff regarding the team.

"My mom always said she regretted not playing volleyball in college and decided I wanted to do that," Eggers said. "I thought Hawkeye would be a good way to figure out my future and I emailed the volleyball coach about playing here."

Eiffler entered her second season a new team at her side and the need to step up with last year's sophomores graduated from the college. Currently, Eiffler has 249 kills to lead the team and 321 digs for second on the team, along with 37 blocks and 20 aces on the season.

"Personally, I wanted to become more confident because I was a bit timid last season," Eiffler said. "Coming into this season, I already have a year of college ball under my belt and felt I could take on more and be confident. We have more girls out this year and finding a connection on the court was one of our biggest goals."

Success has been inconsistent for Hawkeye this season. The Redtails are 13-20 on the season as of publication. Though the Redtails have played more matches in 2019 compared to 2018, struggles have occurred on the road with a target on their backs because of last year's success. Despite the record, Eiffler stated the team has remained close and positive.

"We do a great job of staying together as a team," Eiffler said. "When we get down big, we have leaders on the court and keep us up."

Growing close with a new team proved to be a challenge at first for Eggers, yet she now enjoys a strong relationship with both the new and old faces on the roster.

"One of the biggest differences here was not knowing everyone's face," Eggers said. "I grew up with everyone on my high school team. It was hard to mesh with new players at first, but I learned to connect and bond with everyone on the court."

G-R volleyball coach Paula Kelly, entering her third year with the program, coached all three girls during their upperclassmen years in Reinbeck.

"Paige was a part of my first year and taking a team that was 8-27 in 2016 to a team in 2017 that won 23 games," Kelly said. "She played with her heart while she was here. Her classmates really impacted that next class Meriah and Justina were a part of. Girls programs at G-R haven't been able to get to the level we did in 2018 when we went to State. I credit those three for bringing the passion to the sport for the girls who are currently out."

Kelly commented how each athlete was a leader "in their own way" during their time at G-R. Eiffler and Eggers were quiet leaders while Wittgreve was the loud leader. While Kelly has seen six former players play in college, this is the first time she had athletes go to the same college.

"Justina and Meriah's recruitment stories are interesting because neither planned to play at Hawkeye," Kelly said. "Meriah was verbally committed to Central and Justina was originally just going to be a student. I was in Chicago when they both committed, but I'm very happy with their decision and where they ended up."

Though Kelly is no longer their coach, all three girls had positive, grateful things to say about playing under Kelly together and how they were prepared for their college careers due to her coaching.

"Coach Kelly came into a program that was broken, which I feel her and Coach Kuehl did a great job stepping in with structure," Wittgreve said. "Coach Kelly has been there for me personally. That ultimately led to college. She's a very important person to me."

Eiffler will graduate from Hawkeye in the spring and plans on majoring in elementary education at an undecided college while also considering continuing to play volleyball wherever she lands next. Eggers and Wittgreve both plan to return to the program next season to continue playing for Hawkeye and G-R fans that come over to watch.

"It's awesome to have G-R players go on to the next level," Eiffler said. "Our community has only had a few players go on to play in college, so having three play so close is nice. So many of our fans get to come to watch and we love it."

In a community playing Class 1A volleyball, the prospect of having three college nearby might seemed far fetched. However, the volleyball program has seen recent success with a State berth last year and currently 23-8 with the regular season completed.

"I'm excited for our program because having athletes at the next level means they are passionate about the sport and I feel I was able to make volleyball enjoyable for them as a coach," Kelly said. "Having three at one college is awesome. It melts my heart when I think about it."

The Redtails hosted Sophomore Night for Eiffler and her fellow classmates on Monday, Oct 21. Hawkeye will have four more matches away from Waterloo before Regionals begin in November.



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