Editor’s note: Third in a series looking at “freshmen to watch” at Iowa City High.
By Julianne Berry-Stoelzle, City High senior
IOWA CITY — When people store things away, they often put them out of sight, where they remain forgotten until they or someone else finds them again.
Erika Ernst, who had played volleyball in high school, had a volleyball in her closet, where her daughter stumbled across it around the age of 6.
“I just found a volleyball in (my mom’s) closet one day and I was like, ‘Can we pepper?’” City High freshman Claire Ernst said. “That’s basically how it started.”
Claire proceeded to play recreational volleyball for a few years before successfully trying out for her first club team: Imagine Volleyball. Eventually she switched to the Iowa Rockets, where she still is a member of today.
“I love playing with my team,” Ernst said. “I love this feeling like when you’re scoring a point (and) the adrenaline that you get. When I’m playing the whole match, I just feel really happy and I forget about everything else.
“I’m just doing what I love.”
In the fall, Ernst joined the City High varsity volleyball team, where she was the only freshman and played six rotations, staying in the game in the front and back rows.
“In the back row I think she may have even surprised herself a little bit with how solid she was back there as a freshman,” City High head coach Tricia Carty said. “You don’t often find a freshmen that will play six rotations on any team (in our league), but she did.”
Ernst ended the season with a total of 136 kills, second on the team only to the 157 by senior Alia Vanderhoef.
“I wasn’t expecting to play on varsity and to be given so much playing time,” Ernst said. “(That) exceeded my expectations and it was a lot better and a lot more fun than I imagined.”
Despite being the only freshman on the varsity, Ernst didn’t feel like she was treated differently by the rest of her teammates.
“I feel like people generally don’t look at me as a freshman,” she said. “They expect the same out of me as from everyone else. They hold me accountable.
“I felt like I never wanted to let the team down and I never really felt like I was different from any of them just because I was younger.”
Carty noticed Ernst helping her teammates keep a positive attitude and lifting their spirits.
“She filled a role this year that we needed filled with our team dynamic,” Carty said. “She is always saying really funny things that made everyone smile and laugh, and we needed a lot of that this year just because COVID threw so many other challenges at us.”
Ernst’s dream is to play Division I volleyball. She wants to continue improving her craft to get there.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
“I just really appreciate and love her competitiveness,” Carty said. “She wants to go out and do the best she can each match because she wants to win.
“It’s just really cool to see players take that and then over time develop the confidence in themselves. Seeing her develop (confidence) this year was really great and I’m excited to see that continue over the next three additional years,”