Panther Power

Alums from Grundy County schools have helped UNI volleyball to a strong start this season. From left: Dike-New Hartford grads Taylor Hedges, Rachel Koop and Bri Weber; Grundy Center grad Heather Hook. (Jake Ryder/The Grundy Register photo)

Volleyball players from Grundy County schools push UNI to early success...

CEDAR FALLS – Just a few years prior, it might have been hard to convince Heather Hook that life would have turned out this way.


The former Grundy Center volleyball standout is a fifth-year senior with the University of Northern Iowa's volleyball program as she finishes studying her triple-major education; which admittedly is not much of a stretch for Hook, who won all-state, all-academic, all-state tournament, and all-American awards as a Spartan.


But a Grundy Center volleyball player not just playing alongside athletes from rival Dike-New Hartford, but also sharing the same living space? Hook admits it may not have been easy to convince her as a young Spartan.


"Especially not Bri Weber specifically," Hook said of the 2014 D-NH graduate. "I played a lot against her in club and in high school, never thought I'd even be friends, let alone roommates."


In hindsight, it wasn't what Weber and fellow Wolverine alum D-NH Taylor Hedges were expecting, either. The three UNI student-athletes have embraced the family-oriented Panthers program on and off the court and, along with former Wolverine teammate Rachel Koop, this quartet of players from Grundy County schools have helped put together a heck of a start to a 2017 collegiate volleyball season notable for strong play by all of Iowa's flagship schools.


UNI is 16-4 overall and 6-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference ­­after a pair of road games against Indiana State and Louisville. The Panthers were ranked No. 20 in the nation in the Oct. 9 poll from the American Volleyball Coaches Association, with Iowa State ranked No. 23. The University of Iowa is 13-6 this season, recently upending No. 22 Michigan in Big Ten play.


"The sport has grown so much over the last few years," said Bobbi Petersen, UNI's head volleyball coach, a 1998 IGHSAU Volleyball Hall of Fame inductee and a Dike native herself. "We don't limit our recruiting to just in Iowa, but when you can have a team and a program mostly from the state of Iowa, it represents the state well. It can be hard because other schools recruit more here in Iowa, but we're proud that we have a lot of good relationships with the coaches and teams around here."


Weber appreciates the opportunity she received to be on this team, to better know so many of the girls that she played with or against whether in club volleyball or in the ranks of the North Iowa Cedar League. The Panthers' most recent additions to the 2017 roster include Jaydlin Seehase, a two-time all-state selection from Sumner-Fredericksburg.


"In high school, you have your friends," Weber said. "But here, we're all sisters, a big ol' family, and it's nice to know that everyone has your back, no matter where you're coming from. … Some of us may have been rivals in high school, but now we can grow, make new friendships and also grow our volleyball skills along the way."


Read the full story in the Oct. 12 Grundy Register.