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VOLLEYBALL COACH OF THE YEAR

JOURNAL VOLLEYBALL COACH OF THE YEAR: Bishop Heelan graduate Lauren Brobst brings success back to program

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Heelan vs Western Dubuque 2021 state volleyball

Heelan coach Lauren Brobst and the bench cheer a point during Bishop Heelan vs Western Dubuque Class 4A quarterfinal-round action of the 2021 Iowa Girls High School Volleyball Tournament played Nov. 1 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

SIOUX CITY — When Lauren Brobst took over as Bishop Heelan High School volleyball coach to start the 2019 season, she held high expectations at the beginning.

Brobst is a 2013 graduate of Heelan, where she visited the state tournament thrice. That was the normal of the program.

Lauren Brobst

Lauren Brobst

Brobst knew those high expectations would pay off down the road. She refused to water down those expectations.

“I had all the confidence in the world of these girls,” Brobst said. “My expectations have always been high. We told them this year that we could make waves. We just had to stick together as a team.”

Those high marks indeed paid off, as the Crusaders qualified for the state tournament last month.

Heelan was one of the final eight to make it in the Class 4A tournament, ending a four-year drought to the tournament.

Because of the Crusaders’ success, Brobst is the 2021 Journal Coach of the Year in volleyball.

“I’m thankful for the support of the parents, and I’m thankful for the support from the administration and the athletic directors (Jay Wright and Andrew Foster) are great. They all have confidence in us as a staff.”

The trip to state this season was the 24th in school history, going 21-16.

The journey started in 2019, when Brobst came to coach her alma mater. She knew there were high regards from the community to bring back the program, but she needed to reassure the girls, the parents and the fans that the bounceback took time.

Great things take time, Brobst said.

She got the players to buy in right away, and even though a 9-25 record may not look successful, Brobst kept preaching about trusting the process.

Everyone then started to see that Brobst was the right woman to turn around the Crusaders.

“She had the ability to turn our program around, and get us back to state eventually,” Heelan junior Lauren LaFleur said. “She had us focused at every single practice. It wasn’t always about making it back to state. It was putting our best effort in, because we were going to get better and eventually make it to state.”

The Crusaders improved in 2020, going 12-18. They won three out of their last five matches, which didn’t even happen this season.

The Crusaders even put together a six-match winning streak last season.

Things were starting to fall into place.

Those little things finally did, according to Brobst, over the summer.

Brobst held some open gyms throughout the summer, and that’s where the current third-year Crusaders coach saw some leadership.

“They came to the conclusion that they wanted to get the job done this year,” Brobst said. “There were a lot of moving parts people didn’t see.”

Brobst decided to bring in some eighth graders, just so that they could get acclimated to the program.

Two of those current freshmen were Maliyah Hacker and Maddie LaFleur. Those two stepped up to become key contributors for the Crusaders’ run.

Both of those younger ladies were willing to listen to the older girls as well as the coaches, and make that transition from junior high volleyball all the way to the varsity level.

Hacker led the Crusaders in kills with 178, and she hit .150 on the season.

Maddie LaFleur, meanwhile, led Heelan with 392 assists.

The Crusaders went on a run during the postseason by beating Carroll and Lewis Central to qualify for state.

“We knew we had it in us,” said the 6-foot Lauren LaFleur, who was second among the Crusaders hitters with 160 kills. “We all collectively bought into it. She is a good person to trust. There’s nothing negative about her that would drive us not to trust her.”

On the court, Brobst said the biggest change happened in-system. The Crusaders ran a 6-2 system this year, and it was decided early in the season to have junior Kenley Meis play in the middle.

Her speed and athleticism in the middle of the system made gameplay smoother for the Crusaders.

The Crusaders lose two seniors: Ava Higman and Joslyn Verzal. Those two were the two leaders in digs for Heelan, as Higman led with 265 while Verzal had 203.

Everybody else comes back, which sparks excitement inside the program to get back to the state tournament next year.

“I think we have a really shot next year of making it back to state and maybe going on a deeper run than we did this year,” Lauren LaFleur said.

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