Photo by John S. Peterson
Nebraska Volleyball

Ashtyn Veerbeek's Time is Split, and that's Perfectly All Right

December 22, 2019
11,121

On Friday, Nov. 15, Ashtyn Veerbeek watched her mom go for history on her phone. Instead of being able to drive to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Veerbeek was in Lincoln, at some kind of dinner for boosters (Tammi Veerbeek doesn’t quite remember the event). 

Dyersville Beckman Catholic took the first set of the IGHSAU Class 2A state volleyball title match 25-20 from a Western Christian team that had lost just five of its last 45 matches. In the third set, Western Christian had it at 24-22 set point before Beckman Catholic flipped momentum with a 3-0 run. A little bit of adversity for a team used to winning.

But winning, like others have said, is habitual and ever since Ashtyn came into this world, her mother has played for and won state volleyball titles in Iowa. That Friday evening represented a 19th consecutive trip to the state tournament and a 10th consecutive trip to the title match. A 4-1 run for Western Christian to take the third set 28-26, and a 25-16 title-clinching fourth set gave Tammi her 12th title in 21 years with the program.

It broke a tie with former Dubuque Wahlert coach Tom Keating for the most won by a single coach at that level in Iowa volleyball history. Tammi had a new record to add to her resume.

Back in Lincoln, Ashtyn started crying.

“There's a lot of pride in our program,” Tammi said, “and Ashtyn still has that sense of pride from being a Western Christian volleyball player.”

Before she settled on Division I basketball and before she came to Lincoln to play for Husker coach Amy Williams and before she became a can’t-take-her-off-the-floor kind of player by Year 2, Ashtyn played for her mom on the volleyball court. In 2018, when Ashtyn was just a freshman forward in Williams’ program, she left Lincoln during the week and drove the 4.5-hour, 300-some-mile drive to Cedar Rapids to watch her mom in the state tournament against Sidney. Nebraska had played Drake in Lincoln the night before and it played USC three days later.

After returning from a trip overseas this offseason, Ashtyn again drove home to Iowa and worked five straight days at a volleyball camp Tammi was running. “She helped me at tryouts,” Tammi said. “She's on a box hitting balls at my players, sometimes would even hope in and do blocking drills with us, which I don't know if Amy would like to hear that. She's very vested into it.” Tammi never pushed her to volleyball, Ashtyn just grew up in that world.

She started going around her mom’s practices when she was four years old. Ashtyn played hockey and basketball and volleyball growing up (her mom has a love for basketball too), but there’s something about being a coach’s kid. Ashtyn, to this day, says she sees the game of volleyball better than basketball.

“It’s so funny because I sat with Ashtyn at a volleyball game earlier this year and her mom sent a message later that said, ‘Ashtyn said Coach Williams knows a lot about basketball, but she really doesn’t know much about volleyball,’” Williams said. “I was cracking up. I was just picking her brain the entire game about why we’re doing this and that.”

Ashtyn, along with teammates Sam Haiby and Taylor Kissinger, lives with a member of John Cook’s volleyball team, sophomore Chen Abramovich. She’s close with star setter Nicklin Hames, among others. Hames will come watch Ashtyn’s games and Ashtyn will go watch Hames. “I love watching them,” Ashtyn says. “I’m glad I came to a school where the volleyball team is the best in the country. It makes it fun.”

They even scheduled a pick-up basketball game between the two teams. It was over shortly after it began, as one could probably imagine. The volleyball team didn’t score a point. Ashtyn said they called it after a 10-0 start.

“I hope that it didn’t happen at a time where volleyball was in-season,” Williams said as she started to laugh. “There’s reasons why they don’t tell coaches if that stuff is taking place.”

Cook knows Ashtyn. If the two pass each other by inside the Huskers’ facilities, Cook will say “Hi” and Ashtyn’s friends will ask in wonderment how the most successful coach at the school knows the sophomore forward from Iowa.

“We went down to a Nebraska volleyball camp her senior year, and Ashtyn actually won one of the top attackers at the Nebraska camp,” Tammi said. “When John Cook announced it, he said, ‘Ashtyn Veerbeek, who will be a Husker with the basketball team.’”

That year, Ashtyn was named to the Elite All-State team in Iowa. Only eight players earn that honor each season. She was a middle hitter for Tammi.

“She just had a knack for putting the ball in the right spot,” Tammi says. “She would tip it and then she'd pound one, and then she’d push it to the deep corner. She just frustrated teams because she had so many different shots. But one of her best plays was a slide, which ironically is basically like a layup, it's the same kind of footwork. That was always one of her best hits, which I always said was somewhat basketball-related. … She would just overpower people at the net in high school.”

But she didn’t play the back row. So there would be rotations in crucial moments she would have to sit.

“She hated that,” Tammi said.

Williams never had to fight Cook for Ashtyn’s signature and she never had to fight Tammi to OK the now-permanent move to full-time basketball.

“I think first of all, Tammi Veerbeek is special, and what she’s accomplished, and the way she builds camaraderie, she’s just a coach that understands dynamics, but she’s also just an excellent mom,” Williams says. “She did a fantastic job of really letting Ashtyn find her path.

“To be quite honest, the whole process I never really ever felt like it was something where I worried that her mom was going to want her to play volleyball. I think her mom just loves to watch Ashtyn do what she loves to do, and loves to watch her compete and whether that’s volleyball or basketball, her mom’s just as excited and into it.”

And Tammi was willing to retire if Ashtyn went to school for volleyball, all so she could watch her daughter grow up. The difference in sport means there isn’t a direct overlap, so Tammi will probably keep on winning.

It’s impressive, really. That’s the vibe around those that know Tammi. She coached when she was pregnant with Ashtyn. She coached when Ashtyn was a baby. Extended family all lived nearby, so they could help on days where Ashtyn’s father was at work and Tammi needed to focus on her team, and her husband believed in what she was doing and wanted to continue to watch her have success coaching volleyball. Granted, we’re talking nearly two decades ago, so that sentiment toward a dominant woman in the realm of sport—and a mother at that—is few and far between.

Tammi is tough. Ashtyn is the same way.

Williams first discovered her basketball ability when Ashtyn was a freshman at Western Christian. The coach at South Dakota at the time, Williams had her dad on a recruiting visit with her, and they were both enamored with Ashtyn’s blend of athleticism. When Williams took over the Nebraska program in 2016, she brought Ashtyn in for a camp and offered her at its conclusion.

Ashtyn doesn’t give herself enough credit, Williams says. Her growth as a basketball player has been pretty drastic. Ashtyn always had range on her jumpshot, but this summer she put in extra work with Haiby to fine-tune her shooting ability. She has these moments where she shows off a vision or a handle beyond her years or position.

Her calling card on a basketball court, though, and the reason she’s playing D1 basketball instead of volleyball, is that toughness.

“She definitely could play college volleyball somewhere, but, but I think that she really excels and thrives under that physical nature,” Williams said. “The fact that we don't play on the opposite side of the net from our opponent allows her to kind of use some of that physicality that she's so good at. I think that's ultimately what won basketball out for her.”

There was a game in junior high where Ashtyn’s team won 34-33 and Ashtyn scored 34 points. She played club basketball and volleyball at the same time. Tammi saw that basketball love growing in high school, and though it was hard to give up volleyball, Ashtyn was just too good.

As a junior, she was a first-team all-state selection by the Iowa Girls Coaches Associate and the Des Moines Register, and she was named the Sioux City Journal Player of the Year. As a senior, she earned Class 2A all-state honors again and was named by The Register as one of the 50 best female Iowa high school players of all time.

She may very well have a long career ahead in basketball.

“She always tells me if she could have a dream job it would be to find a job around here and coach for Western Christian volleyball,” Tammi says with a smile. “She will say to me, ‘You are not quitting. You are not quitting and you will [coach] until I’m ready to come back and take it.’

“We’ll see where life goes.”

 
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