Stepping up: Norberg enjoys breakout junior season at Kent State
After a stellar volleyball career at South Tahoe High, Drew Norberg progressed in her first two seasons at Kent State despite not seeing much court time. During her junior season, that work paid off, as it all changed for the former Vikings’ standout.
While living in Ohio and adjusting to the speed of the Division I game, Norberg didn’t get as much initial playing time as she hoped. The former Vikings star responded by reinventing her game, continuing to work and waiting for her opportunity.
“It was growing and breaking everything down — starting over almost,” Norberg said. “It was a clean palette, and two spring seasons definitely put me in better mental and physical shape to be ready to start this year.
“I came into this season ready to help my team and do whatever I could. I was confident going in that I was going to play, and play well.”
Norberg started all 30 matches at middle blocker for the Golden Flashes during the 2015 season, and the 6-foot-1-inch junior played a prominent role in one of the best seasons in program history. She had 234 kills with a .293 hitting percentage in 30 matches and recorded double-digit kills in eight contests — her 2.03 kills per set ranked fourth on the team.
“She knew she had an opportunity this year, and she really ran away with that once we got going with a consistent lineup,” Kent State head coach Don Gromala said. “She really stepped up her game.”
Norberg hit her stride midway through the 2015 campaign after switching to a one-footed attack that capitalized on her quickness. She hit better than .300 in 10 of the last 11 regular season contests and closed it out by earning the MAC East Offensive Player of the Week award Nov. 17.
“We always kind of thought she had it, but this year it was a little bit surprising how good she got off of one foot,” Gromala said. “When she’s up to attack, she gets off the ground really quick and her arms up really fast — it’s hard for people to make adjustments, and it’s hard for defenses to make plays on the swings she takes.”
In the eyes of her coach, Norberg became one of the best middle blockers in the MAC by the time the season came to an end. As Norberg improved, so did Kent State — the Golden Flashes won 12 of their last 13 matches en route to capturing a share of the first Mid-American East Division championship in program history.
“Teams started to key on her, put double blocks up and she was still scoring,” Gromala said. “That’s a testament to her determination to be successful.”
Kent State went 20-10 and shared the MAC East Division title with Ohio. The Golden Flashes finished two victories shy of a first-ever NCAA Tournament bid while equaling their second-highest total for wins in a season.
“I was really excited and really happy about it,” Norberg said. “We had a really good season as a team — we all worked really hard, played really hard and stayed really focused.”
During her senior season at STHS in 2012, Norberg helped lead the Vikings to the Div. I-A State championship before signing with Kent State. The All-State and All-League selection played in just seven matches combined during the first two seasons of her collegiate career.
“When we recruited Drew, we loved her competitiveness and overall athleticism,” Gromala said. “We knew it was going to take a little bit of time for her to adjust to how we did things training-wise and technically.”
As one of four rising seniors on next year’s team, Norberg is already looking toward her final season at Kent State. She is expected to be one of the leaders for the Golden Flashes next year.
“It’s hard to let go of the seniors we had, but we’re all very excited,” Norberg said. “We are already training in the weight room getting ready for spring, very focused and determined.”
An avid skier, Norberg said she is proud to represent her hometown from across the country — and has what her coach describes as “California mojo.” Nearly 2,400 miles from South Lake Tahoe, she dons a slightly different shade of blue and gold now — but still brings a unique personality to the sport.
“She’s a joy to coach, and she’s her own person, which I think is really cool,” Gromala said. “Her leadership is going to be important for the future successes of Kent State volleyball.”
For Norberg, it’s just the next step forward in her volleyball career.