Kittle and Hilgenberg reunite as teammates on volleyball court

BY EVELYN LAU | OCTOBER 08, 2009 7:20 AM

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From the outside, volleyball teammates Emma Krieger Kittle and Mara Hilgenberg don’t appear to have much in common.

Power and finesse, reserved and vocal, blond and brunette are just a few ways to describe both players’ distinctive attributes.

But the two do share one unique bond: Their fathers played together on the Iowa football team.

The astonishing fact was something neither seemed to be aware of until Krieger Kittle mentioned her father played Hawkeye football to Hilgenberg during a club volleyball scrimmage.

“I was kind of shocked,” Hilgenberg said. “I had no idea. It kind of surprised me.”

Perhaps what’s even more surprising is how both players almost ended up elsewhere.

Despite Hilgenberg’s rich family history in Iowa athletics, the junior originally chose to attend Indiana for volleyball. Krieger Kittle, also coming from a successful sports family, nearly picked basketball and even considered leaving the state to play.

Instead both changed their minds.

Hilgenberg left Indiana, and as an incoming freshman, Krieger Kittle stayed in her hometown of Iowa City. The decisions allowed for a chance meeting on the hardwood at Iowa.

Almost three decades earlier, the Kittle and Hilgenberg father duo were dominated on the gridiron for the Hawkeyes. As Iowa offensive linemen in the late 1970s, they were teammates and roommates in Hillcrest.

“I think it’s pretty neat that the two of them are together,” said Jay Hilgenberg, Mara Hilgenberg’s father. “Mara and Emma really didn’t know each other growing up or anything. But it’s something how they’ve ended up together on the same team.”

After spending three seasons together — Emma Krieger Kittle’s father, Bruce Kittle, redshirted his senior year — the two football players went their separate ways. One turned to the NFL, the other turned to coaching and academia.

“Probably between the two of us, we’re not one of those, you know, give-you-a-call-every-weekend kind of guys,” Bruce Kittle said. “So I guess that we’re both football players who don’t communicate that way. We stayed in touch OK.”

In the midst of the Big Ten volleyball season, both former football teammates have the opportunity to reconnect with one another as they watch another generation carry on the family name.

Coming around full circle is how Bruce Kittle can best describe it.

“Life has a funny way of doing that — bringing people back together in a way,” he said. “It’s been a really nice gift.”

For Krieger Kittle and the younger Hilgenberg, having fathers who were teammates has made their friendship stronger off the court.

“We’re just really good family friends,” Mara Hilgenberg said. “It’s good to have someone like that on the team to turn to. Her being an underclassman, she knows that she can talk to me whenever. So it’s just a good relationship we have.”

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