Junior setter Quinn Isaacson has spent his entire life surrounded by sports. Playing volleyball in high school, in addition to having parents as coaches, Isaacson knew his transition to Ball State as a freshman would be smooth.
During the 2018 season, Isaacson spent most of his time as a reserve, observing now-senior setter Jake Romano. Though he only played 23 sets, Isaacson said his freshman season was a valuable learning experience.
“All of the setters really took me under,” Isaacson said. “It was me, [Jake Romano] and Courtland Scharenborg. We’ve kind of carried that tradition with our freshman, David Flores.”
At the beginning of his sophomore season, Isaacson’s role with Ball State did not change much from his freshman campaign. That was until Romano suffered a thumb injury in early February 2019. This put Isaacson into a difficult position — carrying the workload put forth by Romano.
“It was unfortunate,” head coach Joel Walton said. “Jake got injured in the middle of the season, and we had to make the transition to Isaacson as our setter. We gave Quinn some opportunity setting — he played against all of our conference opponents last year, so that was a really valuable experience.”
Finishing the 2019 season with a .394 hitting percentage and 759 assists, Isaacson has come a long way since filling in during Romano’s absence. When the Cardinals voted on a team captain last fall, Isaacson was the top choice by the majority of his teammates.
With Isaacson’s constant development, in addition to having a veteran in Romano, Walton has an interesting problem: who to play at setter on any given night. Walton said there is a natural competition between the two but also a sense of comradery and support.
“They’ve been competing for that starting job,” Walton said. “They’ve done a really good job managing that competition and wanting to have the opportunity to be out there themselves. When they don’t have that opportunity, they’re still supporting the other guy on the court.”
Although Isaacson has started nine of the Cardinals’ 10 matches this season, Walton has continued to use Romano in key moments and situations that best fit his playing style. Since returning from last season’s injury, Romano said he has been impressed with Isaacson’s leadership, even if it means less playing time for him.
“He’s a great kid,” Romano said. “When I got injured last year, as unfortunate as it was, he really stepped in and led the team in a great way. He did a lot of good things, and he’s really been helping the program this year as well.”
Isaacson said he has embraced his friendship with Romano. The two constantly give one another feedback during matches and practices, both on areas of strength and improvement.
“Off the court, you get to see what the mindset is,” Isaacson said. “You get to talk to [Jake] and say, ‘Hey, what did you see here?’ You get to learn from him, and it’s more of, ‘Yes, I can go and do it.’ But if I’m not learning on the bench, then I’m not doing my job.”
Currently, Isaacson’s father, Tim Lester, is the head football coach at Western Michigan. His mother, Brie Isaacson, is the head coach of varsity girls’ volleyball at Naperville Central High School in Naperville, Illinois.
“A lot of times, just the fact those kids have grown up at a dinner table where their parents are talking about what it is to build a team and improve — they learn some of the pitfalls that teams go through just by being a part of those conversations,” Walton said.
This season, Isaacson leads Ball State with 238 assists and is second on the team in digs with 50. Recently, Isaacson played a major role in sweeping No. 7 Penn State, tallying 29 assists and a perfect hitting percentage in the win.
The Cardinals currently have four options at setter: Isaacson, Romano, Scharenborg and Flores. Walton said he is pleased with the team’s depth at the position, with Isaacson’s work ethic being a major factor.
“I think the guys have a lot of respect for [Quinn],” Walton said. “That’s not to say they don’t for Jake, but to be the guy that’s voted captain by your teammates says a lot as far as their confidence in you.”