Ask Iowa Central head volleyball coach Sara Horn to talk about Karli Eckert and her face lights up.
Eckert, a sophomore from Omaha, might not be the leader in kills, assists, digs or blocks for the fourth-ranked Tritons, but she serves an even bigger role on the team.
"Karli is the 'mom,'" Horn said. "She is just so accomplished. She had a 4.0 this past fall, her grades are awesome, she runs a small business and is just a lead-by-example person.
"She boosts everybody's confidence and makes people around her better. She truly is invaluable."
While some college students might look at being called a 'mom' as an insult, Eckert embraces it.
"I have to say I'm the luckiest mom in the world," she said. "I always leave practice with a smile. Being a vocal person I try and use that to my advantage as much as I can whether it be motivational or tough love sometimes. Our team is something I will forever be thankful for and never forget.
"Being looked upon is one of my personal goals I have for myself every day. What can I do or say that will make someone's day or make them show a smile?"
As a freshman last year, Eckert and the Tritons secured a second consecutive ICCAC title. They are currently in the thick of the league race ahead of a showdown with fellow Top-5 Iowa Western on Monday night inside Hodges Fieldhouse.
Eckert, who has 100 digs with an ace and four assists in 17 matches played this season, has embraced all the variables that have come with this season.
"It honestly has been a blessing in disguise," she said. "Through all the ups and downs, I wouldn't trade any of these moments and memories with anyone. COVID for everyone at first was new and unknown, but coming in, we were so thankful to get back into the sport we love. There was a ton of learning here and there through practices, protocols and taking each day with a new start.
"Personally, when we came back, it was new for all of us. There was no advice we could give each other as sophomores or any to give the new freshmen. We all took it with a grain of salt and took each step together. Our team motto is from Nebraska volleyball head coach John Cook who said 'Mount Everest is 29,029 feet, the last 29 feet is the hardest part and some end up quitting.' This moment with COVID have truly been the start to our last 29 with the season coming to a close and regionals right around the corner."
That also means the final times playing for the Tritons for Eckert, which gets her emotional.
"As the games are slowly coming to an end and practices are counting down, I wouldn't trade this experience for the world," she said. "From the first day and to my last day on campus, I am first to say I am so blessed for all the opportunities I was able to have here. Our volleyball program is one of the best and I'm not being biased at all.
"Coach Horn, Coach Gabby, our old Coach Alyssa G, Hannah, Stevie, anyone that has ever come into practice to help us out is one of the reasons I am where I am today as a person and player. Iowa Central volleyball is my forever home and something I will always hold in my heart and tell people about as time goes by."
Eckert plans to continue her playing career at a four-year school while completing her Bachelor's degree in Secondary Education.
-By Dana Becker