Wichita State’s two best volleyball players grew up just a few miles apart.
They went to Newton High and graduated together in 2012. They redshirted in 2013 at Wichita State, biding their time together. And they since have become all-Missouri Valley Conference players together as a blocker and a setter.
The blocker is Abbie Lehman; the setter is Emily Hiebert. The juniors will be doing damage this weekend during the Shocker Classic against Cincinnati, IUPUI and Marquette. And, as you might imagine given their togetherness, they’re tight.
They live together, often eat together, play together and are planning on a lifetime of friendship with curiosity about how it all looks in the coming years.
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“We’ll be friends forever,” the 6-foot Hiebert said.
Said Lehman: “I can’t imagine not being friends with Emily for the rest of my life.”
Common experiences have led to a strong bond.
Lehman, who had 401 kills and a remarkable .423 kill percentage last season, grew up on a dairy farm between Newton and Hesston. She rose as early as 2 a.m. to feed and milk the cows and wants to live in the country again someday.
Hiebert, one of the Shockers’ career leaders in assists, is more of a city girl, but neither can think of a chink in the other’s armor, at least not one they’re willing to acknowledge.
“We’re both pretty easygoing and we both try to avoid conflict,” Hiebert said. “We try to stay out of the drama and stuff like that. When girls get all … well, we try not to participate.”
It’s hard to imagine, but a Newton team with Lehman and Hiebert did not win a high school state championship. The Railers were defeated by Miege 25-16, 25-20 in the 2011 Class 5A championship match.
Miege, one of the most tradition-rich programs in the state’s history, went 44-3 that season and has won seven state titles in eight years. Still, there’s a sting remaining, at least for Hiebert.
“It does still bug me that we didn’t win a state championship in high school,” Hiebert said. “(Miege) was really good but we also had a lot of talent that year. It kind of stinks that we didn’t win it.”
Lehman, who describes herself as ultra competitive, is less perturbed.
“I’m just proud of what we accomplished,” she said. “I don’t think of the fact that we lost to Miege, I think about how we finished second. It’s kind of strange considering how competitive I usually am.”
Hiebert and Lehman were basketball players at Newton, too, and there were times in their lives with that sport was their priority. Lehman’s uncle, Doug Yoder, is a former Wichita State player from the 1970s.
“I meet Emily at summer weights for basketball coming into our freshman year,” Lehman said. “She was always really good in sports so lots of people in Hesston had heard of her. I was a little intimidated at first, but she was the nicest person ever.”
Their friendship evolved, but Hiebert said the grind of Division I volleyball and the overall college experience has brought them closer than ever.
“Our decisions to go to Wichita State were kind of separate,” Hiebert said.
She committed to WSU early in her high school career while Lehman waited longer, until the summer before her senior year.
“We’ve lived together all along,” Hiebert said. “We were roommates in the dorm our first year and now we live together in a duplex with another player. We kind of say that Abbie is the mother of our house. She keeps us on track. She’s kind of motherly.”
Lehman isn’t so sure about that, but does acknowledge that growing up on a busy farm taught her responsibility. And a love for country music not necessarily shared by her roommate.
“I like listening to some other stuff,” Hiebert said. “I do like some country, but I also listen to hip-hop and some rap and a lot of different kinds of music.”
Hiebert and Lehman say they can talk about anything — even politics. And if you can find someone to talk politics in this world, you count yourself as lucky.
“We kind of have the same opinions on a lot of things,” Lehman said. “It’s kind of funny when we start talking politics because we really don’t know a whole lot. But we can still talk.”
Like Hiebert, Lehman tries to let the “little things” go.
“It’s a lot of fun living with Emily,” Lehman said. “You always have someone to go to stuff with and she’s easy to get along with. We both like watching the same kinds of movies, mostly comedies. We eat ice cream a lot and we’re both big sports fans. Emily likes baseball a lot, too, and so do I. We’re football fans. Emily for sure likes the Royals and so do I.”
Most of all, though, they’re a dynamic volleyball duo. Hiebert sets, Lehman kills. They do it over and over.