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Don Owen: The original jump-serving Queen of Aces, Kerry Lewin is still volleyball royalty at NKU

A royal coronation took place in Regents Hall 25 years ago last night. That’s when Kerry Lewin was officially crowned the NCAA’s Queen of Aces and elevated Northern Kentucky University volleyball into the national spotlight.

On Oct. 25, 1995, Lewin served up her 510th career ace during a four-set victory against Mount St. Joseph. NKU’s standout outside hitter eclipsed the previous NCAA all-time record of 509, much to the delight of a large crowd that had gathered in Regents Hall to watch Lewin leap into volleyball history.

Lewin’s devastating jump serve was virtually impossible to handle for most back rows at the NCAA Division II level. The Notre Dame Academy graduate led the nation in aces for two straight seasons and helped lift NKU’s volleyball program back to prominence along the way.

NKU coach Mary Biermann presents Kerry Lewin with the ball after her historic ace in 1995. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

She earned Great Lakes Valley Conference Player of the Year accolades in both 1994 and 1995. Her jump serve — which included a high toss, a majestic approach and a smash that sent the ball into the opponent’s side of the net with an unreadable trajectory — became the talk of NCAA Division II volleyball.

And, on Oct. 25, 1995, it was the center of attention for collegiate volleyball at every level.

There’s a backstory, though. Not about years of practice that eventually perfected the serve that would set an all-time NCAA record. Not about tireless work during her prep career at Notre Dame Academy developing an offensive weapon that in the 1990s was a rare sight.

No, the fact is, Lewin discovered the jump serve as a freshman at NKU. And she did it while simply horsing around at practice.


“It was early in my freshman year. I was just messing around in practice during serving drills,” Lewin said. “I did a couple of jump serves during drills, and Coach (Mary) Biermann told me, ‘If you’re going to do it in practice, you’re going to do it in games.’ I thought, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ I just kept practicing it and it worked out. Coach Biermann saw something in my serve and thought she could help develop it.

“That’s unique for a coach. Obviously, she was a great coach. And to take someone after high school who had never attempted a jump serve, then allow a freshman to develop it like she did, it says a great deal about her ability as a coach and a teacher.”

Biermann recalled those practices early in Lewin’s freshman season at NKU.

NKU’s Colleen Kaufman (13) and Kerry Lewin (3) celebrate after defeating IPFW in 1995. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

“I watched her in practice and wondered if she could execute that (jump serve) during the games, and obviously she did,” said Biermann, who coached NKU to six GLVC championships and two regional titles before retiring after the 2000 season. “Kerry had such confidence with that jump serve. And she was such a great competitor.

“I had never coached a jump server prior to Kerry. It was very rare back then to see anyone try a jump serve. I had coached some very good servers, but none of them used a jump serve. Kerry’s serve disrupted the (opponent’s) passing and their ability to run an offense. Her serving impacted the entire match.”

But why didn’t Lewin attempt to jump serve during her high school career? The answer is simple.

“When I played at Notre Dame, the gym wasn’t big enough to do jump serves,” she said, laughing. “There was not enough space to even try it.”

That all changed at the collegiate level. So did the fortune of the NKU volleyball program, which had suffered through three consecutive losing seasons prior to Lewin’s arrival in 1992.


Lewin enjoyed an outstanding prep career at Notre Dame Academy, which is known for producing regional championships and big-time collegiate talent. So why did she decide to attend NKU, which at that time competed at the NCAA Division II level?

“I wanted to stay close to home, and that was a big piece of choosing NKU,” she said. “Coach Biermann showed great interest during the recruiting. I didn’t necessarily get a lot of big looks from Division I schools. I don’t know how that might have changed my decision.

“You can look back and think, “How might that have played out if Division I programs had shown more interest?’ when I was in high school. But I’m pleased everything turned out the way it did.”

A sign in Regents Hall during Kerry Lewin’s chase for the NCAA all-time service aces record in 1995.

Another factor was a recruit from Highlands High School who would be an integral part of NKU’s future success — Colleen Kaufman. Lewin and Kaufman both arrived at NKU in the fall of 1992 as freshmen as part of an outstanding recruiting class.

“We had played club volleyball together,” Lewin said of Kaufman, who was also an outside hitter. “I really liked Colleen and felt like we could really make something out of this program. There was a sort of comfort in knowing that someone else is going to be in the program that you’ve already played with at the club level.”

Biermann realized immediately the two freshmen outside hitters were going to make huge impacts. “Kerry and Colleen were both great competitors, and they were determined to win,” Biermann said. “You could see the results early on. We’d finished below .500 three straight years, but that class turned the program around.”

During Lewin’s freshman year, NKU posted a 19-12 record and finished second in the GLVC regular-season standings. As a sophomore, Lewin’s performance keyed a 27-11 record — NKU’s first 20-win season since 1987 — and a tie for first place in the GLVC with Ashland.

But a five-set loss to IPFW (now called Purdue Fort Wayne) in the GLVC Tournament at Ashland ended the Norse’s campaign. IPFW had become something of a postseason nemesis for NKU. That trend continued in 1994.

“They (IPFW) were always loaded with talent,” Biermann said. “People today might not realize it, but it took us time to finally get past IPFW and begin that NKU streak of GLVC championships.”

Lewin’s spectacular junior campaign ignited an unbeaten (9-0) GLVC regular-season mark for NKU, which earned the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament. NKU hosted the event in Regents Hall, but IPFW — a team the Norse had defeated twice in the regular season — ruined the weekend for the hosts with a four-set victory in the championship match.

The Volleydons rallied from a one-set deficit and pulled out a pair of 16-14 wins in the second and third sets, then cruised to a 15-8 victory to cap the championship. The IPFW players gave head coach Tim Heffron a Gatorade bath, soaking their mentor as well the NKU statistics crew sitting at the scorer’s table.

Kerry Lewin serves up her record-setting ace during the fourth set with NKU holding a 12-9 lead. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

IPFW also halted NKU’s winning streak at 17. The Norse finished with a 30-3 record. Lewin earned GLVC Player of the Year honors and led the nation in service aces. Biermann was voted GLVC Coach of the Year. But the loss to IPFW left a major void at the conclusion of the season. It also provided plenty of motivation for Lewin and her teammates in 1995.

Going into the 1995 season, NKU had won just one GLVC championship — by the 1985 squad that was in its first year of competing in the conference. The goal for Lewin, then entering her senior season, was simple and had nothing to do with a national record.

“Win the GLVC. That’s what our team was determined to do that year,” Lewin said. “I wasn’t concerned about any individual record. Our team was very focused going into that season because we remembered what happened the year before at home against IPFW.”

Despite the focus, though, the all-time NCAA service aces record loomed for Lewin. On Oct. 25, 1995, she entered the non-conference match against Mount St. Joseph needing four aces to shatter the record.

How did she handle the pressure of attempting to serve up four aces in a single match in front of a large home crowd that had gathered to watch her set the record?

“Kerry was calm about everything, that’s just the type of person she was,” Biermann said. “I’m sure inside, there was some nervousness. But Kerry was such a great competitor who always put the team first. Winning was more important to her than setting that record.”

“Kerry had been in Sports Illustrated in ‘Faces in the Crowd’ the year before,” Biermann added, noting the national attention Lewin received as a junior. “She handled all the attention very well, but she was very humble. Her teammates were very supportive of her during that chase for the record. But our goal was to win the GLVC championship that season.”


NKU entered the contest against Mount St. Joseph with a 23-3 overall record. The Norse had won 19 consecutive matches and were in sole possession of first place in the GLVC with a 15-1 mark.

But on that Wednesday night in 1995, the focus of everyone was on Lewin and her serve. After a tougher-than-expected battle during the first three sets, NKU pulled out to a 12-9 lead in the fourth stanza. Lewin, who had already collected three aces, took her turn on the service line.

She tossed the ball high into the air, timed her serve perfectly and sent a hard topspin smash into the Mount St. Joseph side of the court. Lewin’s patented jump serve fell to the floor untouched just inside the back line.

Kerry Lewin had just served her way into NCAA history with her 510th career ace.

Kerry Lewin (right) is congratulated by teammate Molly Donovan (left) after setting the all-time record for service aces on Oct. 25, 1995. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Lewin received the game ball from Biermann as the crowd roared in approval. The NKU star then quickly ran across the court and tossed the ball into the stands to her parents, Gary and Sharon Lewin.

A few moments later, NKU wrapped up its four-set victory over Mount St, Joseph. The winning streak was intact, now at 20 straight. The all-time record was broken. Lewin’s focus was now completely on winning the GLVC.

“I wanted to get it over and done with, so I could just focus on the team’s goals,” Lewin said. “You’re playing a team sport. We wanted to win the GLVC. We had an awesome year going at that point. The year before we finished 30-3. Now we were in the middle of a long winning streak. I just wanted the attention focused on the team — not on me going for that record.

“I was so glad to be able to do it at home. My family and friends were there, and my parents always traveled to all my games. But doing it in Regents Hall was very special.”

NKU continued winning. The streak reached a school-record 26 after the top-seeded Norse knocked off Quincy in the GLVC Tournament semifinals in Regents Hall by scores of 15-8, 15-7, 14-16, 15-8.

Lewin and her NKU teammates were now one victory away from claiming the program’s first GLVC Tournament championship since 1985. The opponent for the championship match was the Norse’s old postseason nemesis — IPFW.


How confident were the NKU players about winning the GLVC Tournament championship match against IPFW on Nov. 11, 1995?

“I knew we weren’t going to lose. I went into that game knowing we were going to win,” Lewin said. “There was no chance IPFW was going to beat us in that championship match. We had silly string ready for the celebration. I felt it. I knew we were going to win that match.

“We were ready for them. We wanted to end the season on the long winning streak. We didn’t get a (NCAA Division II Tournament) bid and knew before that game we weren’t going to get a bid. So I knew we were prepared and focused for IPFW.”

NKU players react after the final point of their win IPFW for the 1995 GLVC championship. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Biermann also had a good feeling about the outcome, though she concedes that she had no idea about the looming silly string and whip crème celebration by the NKU players.

“I felt like we were going to win,” Biermann said. “It was our time. We were having a great season. I knew the players were ready for IPFW. They remembered what had happened the previous year in the championship match. They were very determined. I knew we were going to play well that day.”

All the NKU premonitions were on target. Lewin dominated IPFW with 25 kills, three aces and 29 digs as NKU captured the GLVC championship with an 11-15, 15-7, 15-7, 15-7 victory in Regents Hall. The Norse extended their school-record winning streak to 27 and improved to 30-3.

“A lot of people don’t realize it, but we started out that season 3-3 with some young players in the lineup with Kerry and Colleen,” Biermann said. “We were starting a freshman setter (Molly Donovan) that season, and she was really talented. That we could pull together and win 27 straight matches and the GLVC championship is a tribute to Kerry and Colleen, because they never let this team get down.”

Lewin ended IPFW’s two-year reign as GLVC champion with a resounding kill to finish the match in the fourth game. Kaufman, who was also named All-GLVC that season, added 17 kills, 18 digs and five blocks against the taller IPFW players.

That set off a raucous celebration by the NKU players — highlighted by whip crème being poured on an unsuspecting Biermann. After the GLVC trophy was presented to NKU, the fans in Regents Hall gave the team a thunderous standing ovation as the celebration continued.

NKU head coach Mary Biermann is showered with whip creme following her team’s win over IPFW in the 1995 GLVC Tournament championship match. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Lewin recalled the joy of the moment — along with an unusual feeling after leaving Regents Hall that day.

“It was so bizarre,” she said. “I remember driving home from the gym afterwards thinking, “This is it. My career is over.’ It was a great feeling to win the GLVC championship in my final game. But it felt odd knowing we were not going to the NCAA Tournament. I wasn’t sad because we had accomplished the goal of winning the GLVC, but it still felt weird knowing it was over.”

In those years, a regional committee decided on the NCAA Division II Tournament field. The GLVC champion did not receive an automatic qualifier for that event in 1995, and the NKU players already knew that four teams from the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference would be selected for the NCAA berths.

The success of that 1995 team, however, ignited an era of unprecedented dominance for NKU in the GLVC. The Norse won five consecutive GLVC championships from 1997-2001 and emerged as a regional powerhouse. The 1999 team posted a 33-2 record and advanced to the NCAA Division II Final Four, where they lost to eventual national champion BYU-Hawaii.

NKU featured All-Americans Jenny Jeremiah and Jessica Buroker in 1999. Jeremiah also earned GLVC Player of the Year honors as the Norse rolled to the league title with a 15-0 record.

“Our teams that followed that 1995 championship just kept building on the momentum that players like Kerry and Colleen had established,” Biermann said. “We earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament a couple of years later. Then the next year we won the regional. And the next season we advanced to the national semifinals. But that 1995 team is the one that really started the momentum of all the championships that followed.”


Lewin finished her career with 533 service aces, which at the time was the collegiate record for every division. Eileen Nicole Rodriguez of Albany (N.Y.) surpassed Lewin’s record in 2005 with a total of 547 career aces. Albany is an NCAA Division I program.

Kerry Lewin (center) takes a final bow in front of the home fans after NKU wins the 1995 GLVC Tournament championship in Regents Hall. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Lewin’s 533 aces are still the all-time record at the NCAA Division II level. One of the top all-around players in Norse history, she also totaled 1,582 kills and 1,729 digs. In 2007, Lewin was inducted into the David Lee Holt NKU Athletics Hall of Fame.

Today she is Kerry Schrand-Rawe. Her son, Leighton Schrand, played college basketball at Xavier. Her daughter, Kamden, is a now sophomore and plays back row for the Notre Dame Academy volleyball team that is contending for another 9th Region championship this season.

Kamden, by the way, has served up 21 aces for Notre Dame this season to rank No. 3 on the team in that category. And if Kamden needs assistance on perfecting her serve the next two years, you can bet the Queen of Aces will be glad to offer some royal advice.

NKU volleyball players pose for photos after defeating IPFW for the 1995 GLVC Tournament championship in Regents Hall. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

GLVC Commissioner Ken Lindsey presents the 1995 volleyball championship trophy to NKU players and coaches in Regents Hall after their win over IPFW. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

NKU players celebrate immediately after their victory over IPFW in the 1995 GLVC Tournament championship match. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Don Owen is sports editor of the Northern Kentucky Tribune. Contact him at don@nkytrib.com and follow him on Twitter at @dontribunesport.

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