They weren’t supposed to be there.

They started out the season 4-5.

But then they started to win.

The Illinois State University Women’s volleyball team ended their dream season Friday evening with a loss to Big 10 champion Wisconsin on their home court in a second round NCAA tournament game.  But they weren’t supposed to be there in the first place.  Despite starting the season with a poor record and multiple away losses, the ISU lady Redbirds engaged in a winning streak.

And they kept on winning.

With a historical 23 match winning streak on the line, the young women of ISU found themselves in a match with the University of Wisconsin on their home court Friday evening after winning only the third NCAA tournament match in their history.

Writers cannot help themselves from salivating at the opportunity to tell the modern day tale of “Hoosiers” as a local team does good and is on a winning streak, defying all odds and making a name for themselves.  And actually winning in the NCAA tournament

But the real story is more than winning and losing.

After speaking with numerous students and hearing the comparisons with what is considered to be commonplace with success in the major leagues of collegiate athletics, I have found that the respect and honor that the young women of Illinois State University hold with their peers is not only uncommon, but revered among faculty and students.

Jen Jaroch, a student at the school, made specific reference to how humble and respected all the girls remain, despite historical wins and records.  “Humble and talented” is the way she explained how the young women are perceived but knowledge of the girls acheivements are not as well known on campus as, say, the #7 ranked ISU football team.

That is just the culture of collegiate sports in our current culture but this is not football anyway.

A team of girls who are well respected, honored and academically recognized might not be seen as the poster athletes of sports today, but they still kick *ss on the court.  I was fortunate to be in attendance at their final regular season game against Missouri Valley Conference foe Wichita State where the crowd left literally exhausted yet also exhilarated at what we were able to witness.  After the straight set win, each senior was announced individually and stood at center court for thunderous applause and individual recognitions, both athletically and academically.

There were smiles and waves, tears and hugs, and a feeling that this was a TEAM and not just a bunch of great individual players.  Seeing each Senior give a hug to each underclassmate before heading onto the court it was absolutely crystal clear that each was admired and cared for by their younger peers.  This was not a team of egos but a team.  Period.

By the way, these young women are quite academically respected as well.

Kaitlyn Early and Ashley Rosch earned MVC Scholar-Athlete First-Team honors for the second straight year. They were joined on the first team by seniors Emily Orrick and Eliza Smith. Senior Sierra Burris earned honorable mention status.

On Friday night the young women lost to last year’s NCAA division I runner-up Wisconsin in straight sets after defeating #2 ranked Marquette Thursday evening.

The game is important to those who play and also who live and die with the girls.   We love them for their effort.

In our current culture heroes in sports are defined in many different ways.

But we need more heroes like the ISU girls.