Photos By Hillary Ehlen
Kalli Hegerle has NDSU running in her blood. Her mother, Shelly, attended and competed in track & field at North Dakota State. Kalli’s father, Erik was a standout football player for the Bison in the early 1990s. To say she was destined for success at North Dakota State might be an understatement given her family’s Bison lineage.
While Hegerle burst onto the scene for Jen Lopez and NDSU volleyball in her true freshman season in 2018, it almost wasn’t so. Hegerle was originally committed to play volleyball at the University of North Dakota. Thus, rewriting the Hegerle family history with a lighter shade of green. It was not until Hegerle attended an NDSU camp that she realized that Fargo, her home, was the place to stay.
“I came to camp and I think it was the last day, I met some of the girls and I was blown away. I met Jen and she coached me during my spring volleyball season and she was the assistant coach here,” Hegerle said. “I just loved the girls and I knew I could make friendships that would last a lifetime and I really thought this would be the best place. It just felt like home.”
Choosing to stay in Fargo and attend North Dakota State proved fruitful immediately for both Hegerle and the Bison. She started in all 29 matches in her true freshman season in 2018. As the Bison’s primary setter, Hegerle racked up 1,001 assists in her freshman season to go along with 255 digs and 63 blocks. Those marks garnered Summit League All-Freshman Team honors.
After that performance, it was more than writing on the wall for Kalli Hegerle. Not only was she destined to be a star at North Dakota State, her play on the court as a freshman was only affirming that assumption. Now, she looks to continue that level of success on a 2019 Bison volleyball team that is poised to climb the Summit League ladder this season.
Most people who watch Hegerle play volleyball know that she has those natural intangibles. Those instincts that you cannot really teach as a coach. So, throughout the offseason, Hegerle has been working with head coach Jen Lopez on the technical side of her game.
“We’re doing a lot more technical work that we couldn’t get done in preseason last year since we just jumped into the season right away,” she said. “Whether it’s defense or hands during setting or blocking work, all those different types of things really improved throughout the spring season.”
Having a resource in Lopez as head coach is no doubt an added bonus for Hegerle. Lopez is perhaps the greatest setter in North Dakota State’s history, winning the Summit League Setter of the Year award in 2011. She is only one of two Bison to ever win that award. There is no pondering from Hegerle when asked if Lopez is the best setter in school history. She is, without question.
“She literally knows so much, it’s insane. If I think I did one thing right, she’ll be like ‘nope, do this’,” said Hegerle of Lopez. “Sometimes it’s frustrating, but it’s awesome that she knows everything and will help me succeed in ways that she knows that I can.”
For those keeping tabs at home, Lopez tallied 494 assists in her true freshman season in 2008, Hegerle had 1,001 last year. It’s safe to say that Hegerle has the tools and resources to not only win the conference’s Setter of the Year award but potentially amass Lopez in career accomplishments.
Obviously, that’s not the focus of Hegerle. She believes this year’s volleyball team can compete for a Summit League title. While the Bison look incredibly young on paper, sporting only one senior in Abbi Klos, NDSU actually has a wealth of experience. Each returner from 2018 played in at least 13 matches last season. On top of that, seven returners (Hegerle included) played in all 29 matches in 2018. While you see youth on the roster, it certainly does not show on the court. “We want to win a Summit League championship, that’s our main goal. Honestly, we just want to get better as the season goes on. Last year we had our ups and downs so we want to stay consistent,” Hegerle said. “Bringing mostly everyone back will be awesome because we have girls that have seen the court for one, two and three years now and they’re going to bring a lot. It’s going to be really fun.”
The Bison went 9-20 last season, going 6-10 in conference play. Their biggest feat was upending third-seeded Omaha in the conference tournament. That win has provided this year’s team with the confidence and momentum to perform at a high level all season.
NDSU will see its usual slate of daunting non-conference opponents to prepare them for the Summit League schedule. A few names to note on this year’s schedule are Pac 12 school California and Tennessee from the SEC. Hegerle sees these tough matches as opportunities for the Bison to grow.
“It prepares us for a lot of things. We’re not going to see as big of teams in our league. We need to go into those games giving it our all,” she said. “Hey, if we pull off a win, that’s awesome. We just know that we can bring it in the Summit League and compete as hard as we did with those bigger teams.”
In order to compete against Summit League opponents and non-conference foes, Hegerle knows the Bison need leadership outside of their lone senior. Since she is the sophomore with the most on-court experience, she feels it necessary to be the one to help lead the team. “I want to continue to find my voice whether it’s on the court or off the court. I want to help my teammates succeed and put them in good situations so that they can succeed,” she said.
South Dakota was able to unseat Denver in last year’s Summit League tournament. Up until that point, the Pioneers had won four consecutive tournament titles. With Denver, South Dakota, Omaha poised to be competitive again this year, Hegerle says the Bison have adopted a different mindset heading into 2019. One that focuses on defense.
“Defense is going to play a big role in if we’re going to succeed this year or not. Last year we had our ups and we had our downs, but we’ve worked a lot on being defensive-minded. That’s our thing for this year,” she said. “Defense wins games and defense wins championships so knowing that we’re going to do everything we can to get the ball up, no matter the circumstances is one of our main goals.”
With that as their mindset, Kalli Hegerle and Bison volleyball are ready to ascend to the top of the Summit League. However, if you know Hegerle, it should come as no surprise. She has demonstrated time and time again that she has the skills to become one of the best setters to play at North Dakota State. With three years remaining on campus, the possibilities are endless for Kalli Hegerle