MAHOMET — Josie Hess was a second-team All-Apollo Conference selection last year as just a sophomore. The libero had a fantastic season, finishing with 389 digs in 78 sets. Hess averaged almost five digs per set, and she played like a wily veteran. Hess also added 47 assists, 26 aces and nine kills.
Despite the success as a libero last year, things could be different this fall. After impressing new coach Stan Bergman with her swing, Hess will make the transition to outside hitter.
“Yeah, I like outside way more,” Hess said. “It’s so much more fun to get a kill than a dig. I’ve played a lot of positions. I played outside and libero a lot so it’ll be fine.”
Hess spent all of last season getting in the way of vicious kills, so this year, she’ll get to bring the heat. After the graduation of Kent State commit Savannah Matthews, there’s a big amount of offensive production that the Bulldogs will have to replace. Matthews will go down as one of the best M-S volleyball players of all time, and she had 338 kills last season.
Senior Lauren Minick and junior Ainsley Ranstead were going to have to step up, and if Hess can become a major player, M-S’ offense might not skip a beat.
“Yes, I feel like we have a lot of potential because all three of us hitters have played club volleyball,” Hess said. “We know how fast-paced we need to be to run a good offense.”
In the back of her mind, Hess always wanted to move to outside hitter, but she didn’t campaign for the move. After Bergman watched her swing a couple times, it was clear that she had a big upside. Plus, senior Ellie Beach has had a strong summer and can step in and be a serviceable libero.
“It was a little bit challenging because I haven’t been swinging and getting a lot of reps in,” Hess said. “But I was so excited because I love to hit. The adrenaline rush of getting a kill is just insane, I can’t wait.”
Hess played for Illini Elite, a terrific club volleyball program centered in Bloomington. Hess and Ranstead were on the same team that advanced all the way to nationals.
“It just makes you feel so much more comfortable during high school season because you played the best competition out there,” Hess added.
Hess might not be a senior, but she’s still having to step up and be a leader. That’s what happens when you’re one of the best players in the Apollo Conference as an underclassman.
“I definitely think that everybody should be a leader on the court,” Hess said. “Not just one specific person. That was the trouble that we had last year. Everybody just wanted to have one person to be that leader and no one else wanted to step up for the team. If everyone chips in and doesn’t sit back, we will be just fine in the leadership department.”
The transition to outside hitter might be a little rocky at first, but Hess will have the help and coaching from Bergman. Hess’ first impression of Bergman was that he was extremely detail-oriented and he’s made the move to outside hitter much easier.
“I’ve never had somebody who broke down step-by-step fundamentals for me, especially for swinging on the outside,” Hess said. “He’s helping me a lot with my arm strength. He’s just so helpful.”