Hayley Kreiger’s mom, Linda, will tell you that her daughter has been playing volleyball ever since she was able to hold the ball, a claim the Davenport senior does not dispute.
Kreiger vividly remembers going to the gym at South Haven High School every day after school to watch her mom coach JV volleyball. This ritual began when she was just 6 years old and continued through middle school. Even at such an early age, she knew she wanted to play. Fast forward eight years, and everything came full circle for Kreiger. She had evolved from spectator to player and secured a spot on the varsity team as a first-year student. She found herself practicing and playing in that same gym where she watched her mom coach. It was there that she began to hone her skills and learn the importance of teamwork and that hard work pays off. She was named All-Conference her sophomore, junior and senior years and All-State her senior year. Her team won the district title her sophomore year and brought home the conference title her senior year for the first time in three decades.
As her high school career came to a close, she set her sights on playing volleyball and softball at the collegiate level. She recalls being told by more than one person that she couldn’t play two sports in college and had to choose one. But she dismissed the doubters and was determined to prove them all wrong.
She immediately set her sights on attending Davenport for several reasons. Her older brother, who played baseball for Davenport, encouraged her to attend. Kreiger had always looked up to her brother and liked the idea of following in his footsteps.
Plus, she was already familiar with the campus and enjoyed the homey atmosphere, great people and strong sense of community.
“My mom kept telling me that I needed to apply to other schools in addition to Davenport, just to keep my options open, but I never did,” Kreiger recalls. “I could see myself at Davenport and knew I would be happy here.”
So when she was offered a scholarship to play softball and volleyball for the Panthers, she was ecstatic. “Being allowed to pursue the sports I love in college was a dream come true,” she said. “Being able to play for the college of my dreams was icing on the cake.”
Davenport quickly became a second home for Kreiger and her teammates—more like family. As the years progressed, the team’s bond strengthened and became more cohesive, resulting in success on the court.
Brian Netzler, Davenport’s women’s volleyball coach, is beyond proud of his team and all they have accomplished. This was a breakthrough season for the team, going 22-9 and narrowly missing out on the NCAA Division II Tournament. The Panthers were 13-5 in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC), which was third place and their best finish since joining the league. Their 22 wins were the most in a season since joining NCAA Division II and the most overall since the 2014 season.
While the entire team performed well this season, several members performed exceptionally well. In this, her senior year, Kreiger led NCAA Division II in kills for a second year, wrapping up a remarkable career. She is the all-time leader in kills at Davenport with 1,936 and is one of two Panthers to have 1,000 career kills and 1,000 career digs. She was named a two-time Academic All- American, Second Team All-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA), Midwest Regional Player of the Year, GLIAC Offensive Player of the Year and GLIAC Player of the Year. She leaves as a four-time First Team All-GLIAC selection.
Another team standout this year was senior Kenzy Corstange. She was named the GLIAC Defensive Player of the Year, First Team All-GLIAC and Second Team All-Region. She was 10th in NCAA Division II in total digs with 594, the ninth member of the Davenport 1,000 digs club and eighth all-time in digs at Davenport with 1,262 digs. She leaves as a four-time First Team All-GLIAC selection.
Also scoring four all-conference selections are outside hitter Lindsay Taylor and setter Lexie Beeke.
Kreiger attributes her success to her coaches and teammates for inspiring her and pushing her to do more. She is also thankful for her mom’s guidance and 20 years of volleyball experience for helping to shape her into the athlete she is.
While the entire season was one of big wins, one really stands out for Netzler, and that’s beating Grand Valley on their home floor.
This season marked Netzler’s fourth as head coach at Davenport. His role is one he takes seriously, and he knows his players will be able to apply their on-court lessons to their personal and professional lives.
“I love being able to help student- athletes grow life skills through sports,” Netzler said. “It’s so valuable for them to learn that being part of something bigger than themselves and coming together to achieve new heights will benefit them later in life.”
Since the season ended in November, Kreiger has had time to reflect.
“Volleyball has been a part of my life as long as I can remember,” she said. “I’m really going to miss competing, but what I’ll miss most is the friendships I’ve made.”
Kreiger graduated with a bachelor’s in business with a focus on project management in spring 2022 and will graduate with a master’s in marketing in fall 2023. She’s not sure what the future holds beyond graduation, but she knows where she’ll be next fall: finishing up her master’s degree at the school she loves with the team she cherishes as an assistant volleyball coach. She looks forward to being involved in the game a little longer and continuing with the Panther volleyball program, albeit in a different role.
Only time will tell what the future holds for this team, but according to coach Netzler, one thing is certain- they will continue their pursuit of GLIAC championship and NCAA tournament wins.