CARSON CITY — Aubrey Hessbrook has had her fair share of athletic accomplishments throughout her career at Carson City-Crystal.
The senior has many Daily News All-Area honors under her belt, making the All-Area First Team last year for volleyball, All-Area Second Team for basketball and won the Daily News Field Athlete of the Year in track.
Hessbrook is the ultimate competitor — always pushing herself harder to be her best. But even the strongest competitors can have some self-doubt creep in, that’s why good coaching can be so important.
Carson City-Crystal volleyball head coach Kali Jo Donahue prides herself in her stat keeping and frequently lets her players know where they’re at in terms of season and career stats. Earlier this season, Donahue and the Eagles pushed senior Carli McAlvey to her career milestone of 1,000 digs. But there was another career milestone on the horizon this year that the Eagles, and Donahue, were pushing another of their senior leaders to get.
Hessbrook has been a staple at setter for the Eagles since she was a sophomore. In an abbreviated 2020 season, she totaled 332 assists as a sophomore. Last season, Hessbrook totaled 396 assists, putting her career total at 728. Even then, however, she was still intimidated by the goal set forth by Donahue — 1,000 career assists.
“I looked at her assists, I went through it and I thought it was definitely something she could hit,” Donahue said. “When I told her that in the summertime, she was like, ‘No way, there’s no possible way I’m going to hit that, you’re crazy.’ And I was like, ‘If you think about it and you break it down, you need six or seven assists per set to reach your goal.’”
The 1,000 assists mark might not seem crazy given Hessbrook’s career totals before this year, but it takes those special players who play more than two seasons on the varsity level to hit those totals normally. Hessbrook has proven she’s a special athlete and once she processed the goal, she was dead set on hitting it.
“It’s something that’s totally manageable and right then and there, she kind of had it in her mind that she really wanted to make this goal that, in her mind, was something that was unattainable,” Donahue said.
There were a few hurdles to overcome in the journey to 1,000 career assists for Hessbrook, one being the Eagles’ preferred offensive system. The Eagles ran a 5-1 offense in her sophomore season, which consists of five hitters and one primary setter, a role that Hessbrook gathered a lot of assists from. But to start the 2021 season, Donahue switched to a 6-2 offensive system, which designated all six players as hitters while two players would act as joint setters depending on the rotation in the offense. This afforded Hessbrook fewer opportunities for assists, as she had to share the load with another player.
Later in the 2021 season, Donahue switched back to the 5-1 system. Mirroring the previous season, Donahue started the 2022 season back in the 6-2 system and later moved back to the 5-1, saying it better suited the team and the level of play, across the board, seemed to go up. For good measure, Hessbrook’s assist totals were also up.
“She’s a strong hitter, as well, so when I can be able to run a 6-2 efficiently and have her hit, as well, it works,” Donahue said. “It’s something that in the beginning of the season it wasn’t quite clicking and jiving yet. So we switched back to a 5-1 and we’ve been playing a lot better in recent weeks, so I think it’s something that just works a little bit better.
“When we started the season and I decided to run a 6-2, I thought it was something she could still reach, it just would be a little bit harder, but she was still kind of on track,” Donahue added. “I switched to a 5-1 and she started getting some crazy numbers and I realized she’d hit it kind of sooner than I thought.”
“I think we are just more well-rounded now,” Hessbrook added. “I think we’ve overall gotten better in the 5-1. It’s kind of difficult though, it’s not a straight-up 5-1 where I set all of the time, we still do have another setter. I think the 5-1 just worked better for our team, the 6-2 was not working and we tried several different ways but you have to do what’s best for the team as a whole.”
With the team’s play and Hessbrook’s numbers escalating, the milestone became more attainable. But the season started to wane without the milestone coming. It wasn’t without a solid effort, though, as assists can be a bit of a contingent stat. A successful assist relies on a successful kill on the other side, leaving Hessbrook’s fate in the hands of her teammates.
“I just kept telling her to trust the process,” Donahue said. “Assists are honestly a lot harder to get 1,000 than digs because if you think about it, you can set so many balls but if the hitter doesn’t get a kill off of it, it doesn’t count for anything. When you’re trying to get 1,000 digs, it’s a lot easier because the other team is just hitting at you and you just have to somehow get a touch on it. With assists, you can have 10 perfect sets in a 30-second play but if you don’t get one that ends in a kill, it’s not going to count for the assist.”
Despite the milestone not coming, Hessbrook never lost sight of the ultimate goal, trusting she would get it by the end of the season.
“I mean, I never was allowing myself to believe that I wouldn’t get it,” Hessbrook said. “That just wasn’t in the cards for me, I never had a doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t. If I would have had that doubt and that fear, it would have had an impact on how fast I got there, so I was just trying to stay optimistic. Even Kali Jo was surprised because I was averaging a lot lower (assists) in the beginning of the season, so she was nervous that it would be at like the very last game. Then stats started going up, she used to text me after every game with the updated stats and that just kind of put more confidence in myself and my sets that I could do it.”
Then came the fateful night — senior night. An Oct. 25 meeting with Vestaburg was the final home game for the Eagles. Hessbrook was celebrated before the game and it wouldn’t be long before she was celebrated again, needing just two assists that night.
“It was all different from Carli’s (milestone) because we were at a home game and it was also senior night, it was already a great night,” Donahue said. “It was funny because she only needed two, so after she got that first one, we were all just kind of waiting until she got that second one. She got it even before either team scored 10 points. We called a timeout, we recognized and cheered for her and then it was time to get back to business and beat Vestaburg.”
Hessbrook said the milestone has been a long time coming. She was happy to celebrate the goal she’d been working for with her teammates during the final home game of her volleyball career.
“Honestly, it was like a relief,” she said. “I had done it, I had finally reached my goal. It was an amazing moment that I’ll never forget with my team, I was very happy. I can’t even put words to describe the emotions, I was just very happy and relieved that I had finally been able to achieve my goal, especially on senior night, it was emotional for sure.”
While the CC-C volleyball season came to an end on Halloween night against Beal City in the first round of the Beal City districts, there was plenty to celebrate along the way for the Eagles, with two of their three-year seniors reaching career milestones. Hessbrook has meant a great deal to this Eagles volleyball team and Donahue throughout her three years coaching for the Eagles’ varsity team.
“She has been a rockstar for us for the past three seasons,” Donahue said. “Aubrey is one of those special athletes, she’s a very athletic player who also does basketball and track and she doesn’t just play them, she excels at them. Being able to coach her the last three years, she is our rock on the court. She gets every second touch but if she touches it the first time, she’s probably going to end up touching it the third time, too. She’s just one of those players, she will run across the whole court to send it over, she’s not ever going to give up on the ball. It’s so much fun to watch her play, you can tell she really loves the game and she will just give everything she has in order to win the game.”
Despite all of the accomplishments and success Hessbrook has had throughout her athletic career at CC-C, she ranks the 1,000 assist milestone right up there with winning second place in the state in the long jump this past spring.
“It’s definitely up there, that’s an amazing thing,” she said. “I feel like it’s more unheard of in volleyball, which kind of makes it more special, so I think that’s really cool. Between getting state runner-up and this, they’re neck and neck. I’m just so happy to have been able to achieve it.”