Iowa State junior middle Abby Greiman, who literally is an Iowa farm girl, didn’t start playing volleyball until she was 13 and never seriously considered playing in college until her junior year of high school.

Though she enjoyed volleyball, her true passion was cattle.

Her parents, both Iowa State graduates, as a side venture, run a small cow and calf operation in Perry, Iowa, raising Hereford and Angus cattle. So while other girls her age might have been exploring athletic opportunities, Greiman was busy helping with the farm work and showing her cattle at competitions.

“(My parents) wanted all of us — I have an older sister and a younger brother — to grow up in that kind of situation,” Greiman said. “They felt like it was a great way to raise kids, and it teaches you a lot of things … We raise beef cattle, and it was a complete family thing.”

Always inquisitive, the 6-foot-2 Greiman said she often would ply her father with questions as to why things were done a certain way. Why do you feed the animals this? Why are you making these decisions to breed them this way? What are the genetics behind it?

That type of curiosity led Greiman to pursue an animal sciences degree at Iowa State. And this spring, she had the opportunity to take part in one of the school’s travel courses, visiting the United Kingdom to get a first-hand look at the origins of the breeds her family raises: Herefords come from England and Angus from Scotland.

“One day, we visited the oldest Hereford herd in the world — the breed that I grew up showing,” she said. “I believe they are just going on their 200th year in operation: same family who has owned it, same place it has been, same genetic lines of cattle.

Abby Greiman by Big Ben in London

“Getting to see it and experience it and also talk to the people who run it and kind of what’s similar about how we (in the U.S.) use the breed versus the way they do it over there, the breeding characteristics they select as opposed to what we do over here.”

She also was able to delve into various aspects of the agriculture industry and some of the global politics and systems behind it.

The tour for the students also included visits to a wool mill, a whisky distillery — which, of course, is connected to the ag industry, Greiman assured — farms and some of the typical tourist things, such as going to London and Cambridge.

“I thought it was a really cool way to experience the country,” she said, “not just seeing the normal tourist attractions but being able to travel the countryside and seeing it from a different point of view and getting to talk to so many cool people who run those places and whose families have been farming over there for so many generations.”

Dealing with surgery on both knees

Of course, she hasn’t neglected her volleyball game while (ahem) beefing up her agricultural knowledge. In fact, she has had to pay special attention to her preparations after having surgery to both knees.

Greiman said she started having knee pain as a sophomore in high school, but it was something she could pay through. Even in her redshirt freshman season at Iowa State, she persevered, appearing in 13 of the Cyclones’ 20 matches, averaging 1.27 kills per set, hitting .328 and registering 35 blocks.

But last season, the pain became too great to ignore. It was the first time, she said, she felt like it was affecting her ability to play.

“I wasn’t able to jump as high. I wasn’t able to move as fast. I wasn’t as explosive to block the pins,” Greiman said. “I really felt it got to the point where it wasn’t just kind of bothering me.”

She discussed her situation with trainers and doctors and had some MRI testing done. In the end, surgery was the best option. As Greiman described it, both her patellar tendons were “almost fraying.”

Her 2021 season was over after appearing in only five matches.

She had arthroscopic surgery on both knees, the right knee just after the NCAA Tournament in December and the left knee in early January. She has been in rehab mode since and was able to make it back for the final three weeks of the Cyclones’ spring season.

She admitted she wasn’t in match shape but was happy to be able to get back on the court and get the muscle memory working again.

Now, Greiman said she is about 90-95% healthy. She is spending the summer getting her strength and jumping ability back. She also is relearning some hitting mechanics with the hope of taking a bit of the strain off her knees and avoiding a relapse.

Cyclones coach Christy Johnson-Lynch isn’t surprised by Greiman’s rapid progress. It is typical of the determination she has shown since arriving in Ames. Remember: Greiman didn’t have quite the volume of volleyball experience as some of her peers, so she had to work extra hard to catch up.

“She’s come such a long way,” said Johnson-Lynch, who is heading into her 18th year at the helm of the Cyclones. “She got here, and I don’t know if she had ever hit a slide. She really struggled with the slide as a freshman. Could barely even get it over the net.

“Her second year it was like, ‘Where did that slide come from? This is amazing!’ She’s really taken off since she’s been here.”

Abbie Greiman attacks for Iowa State/ISU photo

And Greiman’s recovery from her knee issues has come at a perfect time for her. The Cyclones, who were picked third in the Big 12 preseason poll, graduated two middles — Candelaria Herrera, who represented Argentina in the most recent summer Olympics, and Avery Rhodes — so there will be opportunity for Greiman to step into a more prominent role.

“Those are pretty big shoes to fill,” Johnson-Lynch said. “I feel like Abby can be a big part of that. She’s the middle that always knows what the hitters are doing on the other side, who she needs to be on, her assignment, what’s open offensively. She’s the kind of kid who is always one step ahead.”

Said Greiman: “I feel like I learned a lot from (Herrera) and Avery … They were both fifth-year seniors and had a ton of experience. I feel like it’s all up to me now. That spot is wide open, and it’s right there.”

Keeping her hand in the ag industry

Her volleyball commitments have led Greiman to step away from her passion of showing cattle, though she said her younger brother still does it, and she gets “to live vicariously through him.” But, after her enlightening trip to the UK, she has kept her hand in the ag industry, where she someday wants to make a career.

This summer, she is working (remotely) for Aimpoint Research, which is based in Columbus, Ohio. The company, Greiman said, was founded by former military personnel, and its core belief is, as she put it, “food security is national security.”

Greiman gets to do some data analysis and communicates with people from every sector of the food industry.

“The focus is they (Aimpoint) need to keep farmers and others involved in the agriculture industry – and even consumers – on the leading edge of everything that’s happening in the world and domestically,” Greiman said. “What’s going on with the supply chain? Where are we going in 10 years? What balls do we need to get rolling now so we don’t get behind the curve when we get there?

“It’s been really interesting learning about all the different parts that go into the whole supply chain from top to bottom. It’s fast-paced. It’s a competitive industry, so that kind of caters to the athlete side of me, too.”

That’s a side Greiman hopes to show more of this season. With two seasons in the program and knees that are pain-free, she could be poised for a breakthrough in 2022.

“She’s so diligent and conscientious,” Johnson-Lynch said. “She just really gets it, and you never have to worry about her. She’s very mature. That’s who she is in everything she does, whether it’s academics or volleyball or friendships or family. That’s how she’s wired. Just an impressive young person.”

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