CEDAR FALLS -- History offers lessons that can shape the future.
Intent on recreating the culture that has made Northern Iowa volleyball successful, Amie Held is one of five seniors who encouraged the team to embrace the past.
The fight and enthusiasm displayed from UNI's past stars of the West Gym is something this year's Panthers have tried to replicate during their run into the program's 20th NCAA Tournament. In particular, one player from UNI's 2001 and 2002 Sweet 16 teams has captivated their attention.
"They've bought into the tradition of our program," UNI head coach Bobbi Petersen said. "Kim Kester (Tierney) is someone they've been wanting to watch video on. Her passion for the game, they've tried to instill that into their play, as well.
"They understand that you don't just show up and the tradition happens. You have to contribute to be able to be a part of that."
Held, a two-time first-team all-Missouri Valley Conference outside hitter, is part of a large senior class that experienced its share of highs and lows. They've endured roster turnover and two rare years without trips to the NCAA Tournament while forming close bonds to help steer the program back on track.
"UNI had a rich tradition in going to the tournament, so not going was tough knowing that we weren't able to continue that tradition," Held said. "Those were years that got us to where we are now. We're really lucky, really blessed and grateful to be where we are."
Family is a word often overused in team sports, yet it seems to apply to this group of seniors.
"We always knew we'll have each other's backs," Held said. "The best way to put it is that we're sisters, but it's even more than that. The stuff we've been through, I don't think I've been through with my biological sister."
In Held, Petersen sees one of the most unselfish players she's coached. The Panther head coach feels she could have been the MVC's Libero of the Year the past two seasons, yet Held embraced the opportunity to take swings on the outside.
This season Held ranks among the team leaders with 3.12 kills and 3.68 digs per set, in addition to owning a powerful jump serve that has generated 38 aces and forced teams out of system.
"I think people feed off Amie," Petersen said. "I love the fact that she's playing all the way around. As a libero, sometimes you can feel helpless. You never get to finish the play."
Sophomore outside Bri Weber has mirrored Held's impact with 3.19 kills and 3.64 digs per set, joining libero Kendyl Sorge as the team's three constant passers.
"She's taught me so much with my outside hitting," Weber said. "Not only that, but just the personality you have to have on the court. Being strong and being able to be that leader. ... Her presence on the court is enough to calm me down and know that everything is going to be OK."
While Held and Weber stand just 5-foot-9 and 5-10, Petersen feels smaller outsides can still do an effective job scoring. A ball off the top of the block into the stands scores the same as a 6-5 hitter putting a ball straight down.
Also drawing guidance from Weber, in addition to two of UNI's all-time greats in coaches Petersen and Kim (McCaffrey) Davis, Held says she feels more comfortable on the attack this season.
"Bri has been a phenomenal outside hitter her entire life so I can look to her for anything," Held said. "Our coaches have been two of the best outsides here at UNI. Honestly, the people around me helped me get to where I am.
"Something Bri and I have been talking about a lot lately is just getting after it and having the mentality that there's nothing to lose, going for it every time we swing."
While Held's indoor volleyball career will end during this NCAA Tournament run, she'll be entering a new competitive venture this spring. The UNI senior plans to graduate at semester and join Georgia State's sand volleyball program as a grad transfer. Since she didn't redshirt, Held will be able to compete on the sand this spring and the following year. She plans to one day become a coach.
Petersen couldn't be more proud of the legacy seniors Held, Kayla Haneline, Lindsey Schulz, Ashlee Sinnott and Jaidyn Blanchfield leave behind.
"These five seniors have done a really good job of helping the younger kids also learn to lead and have responsibilities," Petersen said. "They don't just want to have their time here be good. They want to leave something. They want teams after them to have the same goals, fight and tradition. That's what I love about them."
This article is written by Nick Petaros from Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.