Fall 2017

Going Out in Style

From Newton to Wichita State, volleyball standouts Hiebert and Lehman form a powerful bond


Wichita State volleyball coach Chris Lamb prefers to reflect during the offseason, when he can allow his mind to wander while doing things like working on a project in his garage. It’s then, he says, when thoughts of a successful season, a group of players or specific individuals take hold.

But there was no escaping it as Lamb stood courtside the day after Thanksgiving at Koch Arena. The Shockers had just completed 20 matches without a loss in their first American Athletic Conference season by sweeping Memphis in the regular-season finale. It was the perfect launch to a conference title celebration and festivities honoring WSU’s seven departing players.

Moments earlier, seniors Emily Hiebert and Abbie Lehman ’17 watched a tribute to the Shocker veterans on the arena’s videoboard with their teammates. Hiebert, the team’s catalyst and bouncing bundle of energy, stood near the front of the pack, dancing and singing Ruelle’s “Gotta Love It” – the musical track for the volleyball video. Lehman, a 6-foot-3 combination of grace and force, fixated on the highlights from the back while wearing a commemorative championship T-shirt and cap.

“Two No. 1 draft picks in the same draft” is how Lamb describes the duo, who started their Shocker careers by signing national letters of intent less than 30 miles away at Newton High School in November 2012. “I knew Emily would be great. We just had to switch her over to the setting position because I knew she could do it. I didn’t know Abbie would become so powerful and so versatile and have so much of an impact for four years.”

Wichita State has had its share of prominent sports duos over time, notably in men’s basketball with Antoine Carr fs ’83 and Cliff Levingston fs ’84, and Ron Baker ’15 and Fred VanVleet ’16. But it’s rare to find a pair on any team who arrive on campus at the same time from the same place and leave an indelible mark.

Hiebert and Lehman did that.

Soon after the Senior Day celebration, Lehman was named American Conference Player of the Year and Hiebert was chosen Setter of the Year, an award she also won as a junior in the Missouri Valley Conference. Both were unanimous all-conference selections, joined by senior Mikaela Raudsepp and junior Tabitha Brown on the first team.

All of it was a prelude to the seniors’ third consecutive bid to the NCAA tournament – and to something new: Wichita State was chosen as one of 16 host schools for the opening rounds of the tournament, a first for the program in 11 NCAA appearances.

“This program has been good, long before we got here,” Lehman said during a news conference on the eve of Wichita State’s first-round match against Virginia’s Radford University on Dec. 1. “But I think it is special that we got it.”

Seeds of friendship

Ask them how they ended up on this path – from acquaintances the first day of summer conditioning as high school freshmen to teammates and college roommates their entire time at WSU – and laughter ensues. Lehman, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science in May and is working on a master’s degree in the same field, transferred to Newton from Hesston Middle School. Although her older siblings had done the same, she was still the new kid in school.

“I do remember Abbie’s mom (Karen) telling me, ‘Oh, thank you so much,’” says Pam Hiebert, Emily’s mother. “‘Tell Emily thank you so much. She went and sat with Abbie at lunch on her first day.’”

Hiebert, a physical education major, was on a fast track to WSU, orally committing to the volleyball program as an underclassman. Lehman’s initial intention was to play NCAA Division II basketball like her sister, Kate, who starred at Fort Hays State. But right before Lehman’s senior season, Lamb, who had frequently watched Newton play while recruiting Hiebert, noticed rapid development in Lehman’s volleyball skills at a Shocker team camp for high school players.

“Something clicked that summer,” Lamb says. “It was like, ‘Look at Abbie Lehman go. She’s moving laterally, she’s changing directions, she’s fast off the ground – and she’s starting to really hit the ball.’”

While the opportunity to be a Division I student-athlete was enticing for Lehman, it was only part of her decision. “Emily was a huge factor,” Lehman says. “Knowing someone who was going to be there and that I would always have someone to talk to – because I was a really, really shy kid – so just knowing that I would have someone there to go through that with was huge.”

The feeling was mutual for Hiebert, particularly during their first fall at WSU as Fairmount Towers roommates and volleyball redshirts.

“Our systems that we run here at Wichita State are super complicated,” Hiebert says. “I remember going in for our first couple practices of double days, and I’d go back to the dorm crying. It’d be so hard to remember everything and learn everything, but it was a great time to get to learn.”

Leaving a legacy

Hiebert and Lehman are linked by their success on the court and their friendship off of it. As they approached the end of their college careers, both secured spots among the Shockers’ best players in school history.

On the day WSU clinched the American title with a victory at SMU, Hiebert became the Shockers’ career leader in assists and Lehman, a middle blocker, reached the program’s pinnacle for total blocks. She later became WSU’s career leader in block assists. “But we mostly just care about being with the team and winning,” Hiebert says.

In a new conference, that meant doing those things in places such as Philadelphia, where Wichita State won its American opener against Temple – and where Hiebert enjoyed seeing the Liberty Bell and the “Rocky Steps” leading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. When the Shockers played Tulane in New Orleans, Lehman and others persuaded coaches to stop the team bus by Jackson Square, near Café du Monde and the St. Louis Cathedral.

“I’ve enjoyed seeing all the new gyms,” Lehman says. “In the Missouri Valley, we knew what the locker room was going to look like. We knew what kind of crowd was going to show. This year, you didn’t know. We’ve enjoyed seeing the new places and just rolling with it.”

Hiebert and Lehman were among 30 volleyball nominees nationwide for the Senior CLASS Award, which recognizes individual excellence in community, classroom, character and competition. Lehman made a list of 10 finalists for the award, which was announced in mid-December. “They’re like sisters,” Karen Lehman says. “They’re just as close as could be to a sister, except they can get (away from) each other at family functions.” After the regular-season finale, she added, “You kind of think, ‘Wow, this really happened. It’s awesome.’ It’s really cool that they have each other.”

As the Shockers’ success continued to build during their senior season, so did the demand for the Newton duo. Hiebert and Lehman did several television interviews together, appeared on a Wichita radio talk show and were next to Lamb on the podium for NCAA tournament news conferences.

“We always knew that we were going to be really good friends,” Hiebert says. “We came here being roommates and we’re still roommates. I don’t know if we knew we’d be this connected when we were playing also.”

They formed a bond that was impossible to ignore. Even for their uber-focused coach during the course of the Shockers’ impressive 29-4 season.

“Both of these young ladies have been so humble in their approach to this thing and so approachable around their teammates,” Lamb says. “They’ve just been perfect.”



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