No limits: For Northwestern's Hessel, volleyball is part of life
The Superior Telegram's 2022 Volleyball Player of the Year plays pepper in the house with her sister and parents. Plates, ornaments and coasters have paid the price while the Tigers' middle blocker worked on her skills.
MAPLE — For the Hessel family, “no balls in the house” is not a household rule.
“Our house now has vaulted ceilings, and Brynn, her sister and mom like to play pepper in the house and even regular volleyball, and they’re drilling it at each other,” Northwestern coach Charlie Hessel said.
But consequences still apply.
“There’s been a few times we’ve knocked over some cups and water spilled everywhere,” said Brynn Hessel, a Northwestern senior and the Telegram's 2022 All-Area Volleyball Player of the Year.
The father-daughter duo listed plates, Christmas ornaments and coasters as things they have broken playing pepper in the house.
“I mean it’s frustrating when things get broken or spilled, but it’s funny seeing that they have the desire to play,” Charlie said and added that he wanted to be hands-off and let his daughters find their own passion.
For Brynn it just happened to be volleyball.
In middle school she played basketball and softball but realized volleyball was her favorite sport. From there she decided to play at the club level and do more work in the offseason.
“I wanted to do my best to get better at it because I knew it was something that I loved,” the middle blocker said.
Brynn was named the team's most valuable offensive player and led Northwestern — a team that went 4-22 in 2021 — to a 21-11 season. The Tigers achieved a winning record this year for the first time since 2015 and notched more than 20 wins for the first time since 2009.
“Obviously, I’m really proud of our record from this season, I mean 21-11… I would have never guessed. I knew this year was going to be a really good year, but I had no idea what was coming,” she said.
Brynn isn’t the loudest player on the court but she leads through her skills according to Heart O’ North All-Conference teammate Kayla Paulsen.
“She’s a quiet person, but she brings a level of energy in her abilities that dominate at the net.” Paulsen said about the six-footer. “She can see the court really well, and she can take away a lot of the court with her blocking.”
This season Brynn made first team All-Conference and did so by her play at the net, with team highs in kill rate (.396%), attack rate (.268%), and blocks (84). Brynn also finished with 245 digs and 260 kills which moved her into fourth place for each category in Northwestern school history.
Just like any other season, there were ups and downs, but Brynn said she was able to lean on the team around her.
“We definitely stayed positive during the season. I think that we have all been playing together for so long and knew each other so long, those bonds helped us lift each other up if we needed it,” Brynn said.
The relationships she built with her team had been formed over a long time, specifically with the six other seniors on the team that have played alongside Brynn since fourth grade at the YMCA.
The team bonded so well that their coach felt like it was more than just his daughters on the team who were sisters.
“To have that core group for so long, I mean you were like sisters, that’s the only way to describe it, I think," Charlie said.
Part of this is because of how inviting Brynn is as a person, said fellow senior Brinley Tonn.
“She’s also extremely easy going. you're never going to get in a fight with Brynn, or get into an argument,” Tonn said.
One of Brynn's favorite memories from the season was a home game against Rice Lake. Leading up to the game, the Tigers left the Onalaska tournament with a winning record (5-3) which had never been done by Northwestern, and then defeated the Superior Spartans in a close 3-2 game in Superior.
As the team tried to keep their momentum, they were at home for the big match-up with Rice Lake, who was also rolling, having won nine of their last 10.
“We had no idea what to expect coming into the game, and then we went out and lost the first set,” Brynn said.
The team continued to push through with the help of their fans.
“I just remember the fan section and they were so loud and amazing during that game, and I mean throughout the whole season the fan section really hyped us up,” Brynn said.
Assistant coach Cindy Morgan noticed how Brynn improved not only her ability but also her confidence over the years.
“She handled the pressure very well, with confidence and dignity, but she was always trying to do better,” Morgan said.
The pressure brought the best out of the team and Brynn, Charlie said. In the match against Rice Lake, Brynn finished with 23 kills.
Now that her senior volleyball season is over, Brynn hasn’t decided if she will play volleyball in college. Her focus is on finding a school that academically will help her do what she wants and keeps her close to home so she can come back often.
"If I can (play volleyball), I would love to, but if not, it’s OK, too,” she said.
Superior Telegram Volleyball Players of the Year
2022 — Brynn Hessel, Sr., Northwestern
2021 — Lexie Lohman, Sr., Superior
2019 — No individual player named, just a team
2018 — No individual player named, just a team
2017 — No individual player named, just a team
2016 — Caleigh Jensen, So., Superior
2015 — Cheyenne Johnson, Sr., Northwestern
2014 — Nicole Sorenson, Sr., Superior
2013 — Jessica Lindstrom, Sr., Superior
2012 — Jessica Lindstrom, Jr., Superior
2011 — Jessica Lindstrom, So., Superior
2010 — Ally May, Jr., Northwestern
2009 — Anna Morgan, Sr., Northwestern
2008 — Salann Gilbert, Sr., Solon Springs; Lindsay Taipale, Sr., Northwestern
2007 — Nikki Hughes, Sr., Northwestern
2006 — Northwestern team
2005 — Ciara Gilbert, Jr., Solon Springs
2004 — Cayla Rozowski, Sr., Superior
2003 — Kristy Siegner, Sr., Northwestern
2002 — Jenny Carlson, Sr., Northwestern
*A Player of the Year was not named as the prep volleyball season was changed significantly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.