COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Dec. 26, 2013) – When Heather Erickson joined the U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball team, she was a fresh-faced, 13-year-old rookie. Nearly seven years and two Paralympic Games later, Erickson is one of the veteran leaders on the squad.
|Heather Erickson serves during a match in Denver.|
“It’s kind of weird for me, being the older one now, because I was the one who was 13 at one point,” Erickson, 20, said. “Having [the new young players] in there is awesome, because there’s so much potential in them and they don’t even know it yet. They’re going to be little rock stars. I definitely want to help them, and try to make them feel as welcome as possible. I still have stuff to work on too, so it’s kind of an ‘I’ll help you out if you help me out’ type of thing, because they have just as much to throw into the pot as I do.”
It’s this attitude as well as her volleyball skills that led the coaching staff to select Erickson (Fayetteville, N.C.) as the 2013 Women’s Sitting Athlete of the Year.
“Heather has always been a pretty dominant player for us, and plays at a high level for us,” U.S. Men’s and Women’s Sitting Head Coach Bill Hamiter said. “But in this past year she just raised her level and really became one of the major players that the team leaned on, especially in the big wins that we had. She really helped the team this year.”
Erickson helped lead the women’s team to an undefeated tournament at the 2013 ParaVolley Pan American Zonal Championships against Brazil in October, scoring a team-leading 19 points in the final match. This first-place finish qualified the U.S. women for the 2014 world championship. Erickson also scored 19 points in the gold medal match of the Moscow Cup in August, earning the tournament’s most valuable player award and leading the team to its first-ever win over arch rival China.
“It was awesome to hear our national anthem, not theirs. I’ve heard their national anthem about three times too many,” Erickson joked. “So that was awesome. We had really good chemistry on the court. It’s nice to finally have that W over them because for so long we had never beat them, and to know that the Chinese team is beatable was really a big thing for us.”
This momentous win over China and a 17-2 record overall for the season helped earn the U.S. women the 2013 Sitting Team of the Year Award.
“It definitely gives us more confidence as we look to the future,” Hamiter said of the win over China. “Most likely, we’ll see them at the world championships and stuff like that. That’s kind of the way I felt the team responded. There was some excitement, definitely, with the win, but it wasn’t like they just overly celebrated it. It was just another one of those things that we knew that we could do.”
Despite making U.S. sitting volleyball history mere months ago, Erickson is still a college student at the University of Central Oklahoma with the same concerns as any other.
“I thankfully have survived finals week!” the sport psychology major said with a laugh. “I feel like I’m on the 20-year plan, but I’m hoping to graduate before Rio. That’s my goal!
“I’ve always just kind of said that if my body and my coach allow me to keep playing, I’m going to keep doing it,” Erickson said of her plans to continue playing volleyball. “I’m still young right now so I’m figuring that Rio’s definitely in the plan, hopefully Japan (in 2020). But other than that I’m going to take it year by year. I’m coaching and stuff so I’ll never have my hands fully out of the volleyball pot, but I’m going to stick around with sitting volleyball until these young ones come up and kick my butt.”