All through Isabella “Izzy” Zubrod’s volleyball life, she has always been overshadowed by teammates.
For six years — throughout the club volleyball circuit and three years at Emerald Ridge High — it was more about Jenna Mullen (Portland State), Audrey Saelens (Bellevue College), Jessica Davis (Colorado-Colorado Springs) and then Ashley Wesenberg (Utah State).
All her superstar teammates were hitters, and it was Zubrod’s job to set them up. But after one season with Pacific Lutheran University, it’s now Zubrod’s time to shine. This past season, her first with the Lutes, Zubrod, now a hybrid hitter/setter, finished second on the team in kills (162) and third in assists (101) while PLU went 13-11 overall and 11-5 in Northwest Conference play.
“Preparing for a game as a hitter is not the same as preparing for one as a setter,” said Zubrod, the only player on PLU to reach triple figures in both kills and assists last season. “It’s way different. You have to know where you need to be along the net to get the point. I never knew how much work went into hitting.”
Preparing for a game as a hitter is not the same as preparing for one as a setter. It’s way different. You have to know where you need to be along the net to get the point. I never knew how much work went into hitting.
As a setter, Zubrod never cared for the attention as long as her team got the point and ultimately the victory in the end. It was a philosophy that led the Jaguars to their first Class 4A state championship game her senior year.
“The thing about volleyball is we have limited scholarship opportunities,” Zubrod said. “If a team already has a setter, they don’t need a setter. It’s not like a hitting position where we’ll take the extra outside hitter. There’s just isn’t a need for three setters.”
But Zubrod was like a magician on the court, pulling out digs and setting up no-look passes that gave her hitters chances for kills. In high school, Zubrod routinely finished with 25-plus assists a game, and would often find herself crossing 30 assists with the talent ER deployed.
But that front-line talent often overshadowed the talent and performance of Zubrod during her high school career, and when it came to sign, the only offer she received was from Bellevue College.
“I was living up there with Audrey (Saelens), but I decided that I wanted to come back to a school where I could also stay at home,” Zubrod said. “I feel fortunate that PLU had a spot open for me.”
After only one year with Bellevue, Zubrod jumped at the chance to return home as PLU and coach Kevin Aoki, who knew Zubrod when she attended Bethel Middle School.
“When she first came in, we thought we were going to have a setter. We were surprised what she could offer us after that first practice,” said Aoki, who wanted to find a spot for Zubrod as a setter even though the Lutes already had Kiana Calles and Madi Collier in place at the position.
“All I ever known of her was as a setter; she was a setter in high school and she set for Bellevue,” Aoki added. “It’s nice when you can see how much a person has grown since then.”
All I ever known of her was as a setter; she was a setter in high school and she set for Bellevue. It’s nice when you can see how much a person has grown since then.
PLU coach Kevin Aoki
After one practice with the Lutes, Aoki and assistants Tim Templin and Sarah Halverson instantly knew they had a gem on their hands. From that moment on, the PLU staff put Zubrod through hitting clinicson her way to entering the starting lineup.
“They told me all I needed to think about was hitting,” Zubrod said. “For the rest of August, all I did was work on hitting.”
The move paid off in spades as Zubrod became one of the most reliable players on the team who often was clutch in big situations.
“We now know having Izzy on the right side, we can pass her the ball when one of our setters goes out,” Aoki said. “Now our setters can run an offense instead of just setting the ball from the outside. Most teams do not have that luxury.”
And when the Lutes needed to finish off a set, Zubrod was nothing but clutch for PLU, another luxury Aoki said most teams just cannot find.
“She understands the game from everyone’s perspective,” Aoki added. “Not many can see what the setters are seeing and what the hitters are seeing.”