That was never in Frank Hebenstreit’s career plan.
He stumbled into it.
“I got into it completely by accident,” Hebenstreit said. “I never intended to be a coach. I never took any coaching classes or went to any clinics.”
Yet, coaching and mentoring high school volleyball players became one of his passions.
For two and a half decades, Hebenstreit served as an assistant coach (for eight seasons) and later as a head coach (for 18 seasons) at Norfolk High School in Norfolk, Nebraska.
He then stepped away from coaching in 2003 and was out of the game for eight years before he returned for a three-year stint to help mentor a new head coach in Norfolk.
“I thought that was the end,” Hebenstreit said.
It wasn’t, though.
He was hired by Mount Marty University in 2015 to take the reins as the head coach of the school’s NAIA volleyball program. He’s been in that position for five seasons now, but announced Thursday that he is stepping aside after this season.
“All in, every part of it; every year of it has been a blessing,” Hebenstreit said Friday. “Every hour and every minute has been a blessing for me.”
Hebenstreit, whose coaching career spans 32 seasons, will coach the remainder of the 2020-21 season, including any matches that could be played next spring. Mount Marty also announced Thursday that Belen Albertos, a third-year assistant coach, will take the reins as head coach beginning next season.
It wasn’t an easy decision to step away, Hebenstreit said, but he knew it was time.
“When I came to Mount Marty, I thought it’d be for 2-3 years to help out, but it kept going,” Hebenstreit said. “I really appreciate the opportunity and the challenge of trying to raise things up in this difficult conference.
“At some point, it has to be enough, I decided.”
Hebenstreit said he debated on retiring after last season, but a series of circumstances convinced him to stick with his players: Albertos had considered returning home to Spain but was promoted from graduate assistant to assistant coach, a player battled a serious illness and other players decided to transfer.
In the end, he remained committed to his players.
“I’m a person who cares a lot about our players and their development and who they are as people,” Hebenstreit said. “I like to think of it as, we don’t coach volleyball players, who coach people who play volleyball.”
Yes, he’ll be leaving the coaching profession, but Hebenstreit said he has as much passion for volleyball as he did when he first started.
“I love taking the game apart, and the art of it, and teaching a player those skills and how to become their best self,” he added. “I love watching people develop, and seeing how they grow as players and people.”
Mount Marty has posted an overall record of 40-122 and a 4-78 mark in the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) in Hebenstreit’s five seasons as head coach.
Although the Lancers have struggled to climb the conference ladder, they’ve found success in other ways, as athletic director Chris Kassin referenced in Thursday’s release.
During Hebenstreit’s tenure, Mount Marty has received the NAIA Scholar Team Award five times, and has tallied 10 all-conference selections, 11 Daktronics Scholar-Athletes and 29 Pflieger-Olson Academic All-Conference Athletes.
“Over the course of his successful career, coach Hebenstreit has demonstrated an ability to build a values-based program that transcends the on-court successes he has achieved,” Kassin said.
“He has worked diligently to build the foundation for success in the most difficult NAIA volleyball conference in the country.”
Next Head Coach
Although their paths have certainly looked different, Albertos never expected to get into coaching, just as Hebenstreit never did.
Albertos, a 26-year-old native of Puertollano, Spain, began playing volleyball at age 9 and then played on the club scene from ages 12-20. During her final year (2014), a college recruiting organization spoke to her team and suggested that any interested players consider moving to the United States to play volleyball for a college.
“I thought they were crazy,” Albertos joked Friday. “I didn’t speak English. But I thought I’d just try it, because I always wanted to come over here and I knew sports were a big deal here.”
In 2015, she came to the United States and enrolled at Martin Methodist College (Tennessee), where she was a standout volleyball player — Albertos was named her league’s Libero of the Year and was an NAIA Scholar-Athlete All-American.
The question for Albertos after graduation became: What now?
“I decided to go home after I got my degree, but my coach told me, ‘You really want to coach, right?’” she said.
“I did, but I wanted to get my Master’s degree but wasn’t sure if I could afford it.”
It was at that point that Albertos was told of graduate assistant coaching opportunities, where one could receive financial assistance and also serve on a coaching staff — “I didn’t know that was possible,” she said.
Albertos began communicating with volleyball coaches from around the United States, and was eventually put in contact with Hebenstreit at Mount Marty. That eventually led Albertos to enroll at Mount Marty, where she joined Hebenstreit’s staff as a graduate assistant coach in 2018.
Six years after she arrived in the United States, she will have risen to the ranks as a college head coach.
“You never know where life will take you,” Albertos said.
Thursday’s announcement that Albertos will take the reins of Hebenstreit next year was met with rave reviews from her mentor.
“There are obviously big challenges, and always will be, but she’s strong-minded and smart,” Hebenstreit said. “She’s a talented young coach who will do a great job.”
One of those challenges involves the GPAC, a league that routinely sends multiple teams deep into the NAIA national tournament. It’s a league that has proven challenging for the Lancers, who have lost their last 45 conference matches (dating back to the 2017 season).
It was a topic that came up early in her first conversations with Hebenstreit, according to Albertos.
“My last year in Spain, we won our conference, so I thought they’d have a couple good teams here, but every team is really good,” Albertos said. “There are a lot of players who could be in Division I.”
It also means, though, that the league’s strength can be part of a recruiting pitch for coaches: As in, do you want to play against the best in the country?
“This is a great opportunity for the girls to play at a really good level,” Albertos said. “We’re trying to get there. We’re not there yet, but we want to get there.”
Getting to that level requires a complete buy-in from everyone on the roster, and Hebenstreit said he saw immediately that Albertos shared his philosophy for building a values-first program.
“Literally, on her first or second day with us, she got excited about that,” Hebenstreit said. “She said she had never seen that side of coaching before, and she really opened up to all of that.”
Those in the athletic department saw that Albertos possesses the kind of qualities that make for a successful head coach, according to Kassin.
“She is driven, motivated and is committed to the mission of this institution,” Kassin said.
And she’s excited to take the reins next year.
Albertos said she wants to continue what Hebenstreit has built within the program.
“We’re different people, so not everything will be the same, but I want to keep working on the culture and the team aspect,” she said. “I’m excited to be the head coach to run my own practices, and all of those first meetings and games.”
Follow @jhoeck on Twitter