CONCORD >> Go to any high school volleyball match and the odds are you will see at least one young girl, if not more, off to the side either passing the ball to themselves, each other or against the wall.
Garnet Valley’s Elizabeth “Lizzie” Herestofa was one of those girls.
She would tag along with the family to watch her older sister, Alix, play in middle school and high school. Eventually, the younger Herestofa would
find a ball and go off and pass the ball to herself or against the wall. That’s how she was introduced to the sport.
By the time she was in middle school, Lizzie Herestofa was taking the game more seriously. Since her sister, who is her senior by nine years, was a setter, Lizzie figured she would be a setter, too.
“It didn’t work out,” Herestofa recalled.
Suddenly, Herestofa was not so sure that volleyball was the sport for her.
“I hadn’t found out what I wanted to be, what I was best at in middle school,” Herestofa said. “I was a little unsure of how it was going to turn out for me and then I got into passing and I fell in love with it. That’s where I found reassurance.”
Passing is one of the skills needed to be a libero. So is quickness, intelligence and the ability to dig balls out. Herestofa found a home as a libero — or defensive specialist — and Garnet Valley coach Mark Clark is glad she did.
Herestofa’s dominating play on defense enabled the Jaguars to make history as the first girls volleyball team in Delaware County history to win a PIAA championship when the Jaguars upset two-time defending champion Parkland last month to win the Class 4A title.
It also helped Herestofa earn Player of the Year honors from the Daily Times.
Joining Herestofa on the All-Delco team, which was selected by the Daily Times sports staff after consultation with county coaches, are teammates Gabby Davis and Sydney Portale, Hannah Wright and Mary Kate Painter from Archbishop Carroll, Kristen “Kiki” Daly of Cardinal O’Hara and Penncrest’s Diana Balta.
Balta and Wright are the only repeat selections. Balta is a three-time All-Delco and Wright earned all-county honors for the second straight year.
Garnet Valley’s defense during its run to the state title, especially in the playoffs, was nothing short of amazing. The Jaguars (24-3) racked up 1,339 digs with 575 coming in the postseason, which included the Central League championship and District 1 and PIAA 4A tournaments.
The Jaguars averaged an astounding 81 digs in their four state tournament matches, including 116 in the five-set marathon victory over Parkland in the final.
Herestofa, who is headed to Susquehanna University with Davis and Portale, was the leader of that defense. She had 42 digs in the championship match and 111 in the state tournament, including the final dig that led to the championship-clinching point by teammate Erin Patterson. Herestofa finished the season with 458 digs.
“I was so lucky to be involved in that last play,” Herestofa said. “It was mind-blowing. I could tell we were going to get that last point. That’s how confident I was in Erin. After I passed it, I knew who Gabby was going to set it to and I knew Erin was going to put it down.”
Herestofa’s value to the team, though, went way beyond numbers. On a team with nine seniors, she was a vocal leader who was not afraid to speak her mind.
“I get a little wild on the court sometimes,” Herestofa said. “I’m pretty loud.”
“She brought tremendous energy and everyone fed off of that,” Clark said.
Her mental toughness is another one of her many qualities, but even she admits that she came a little unglued in Garnet Valley’s 3-0 loss to Council Rock North in the District 1 quarterfinals.
“That game got into my head a little bit,” Herestofa said. “I have a tendency to overthink things and that’s what got to me, the metal aspect of the game. I think that’s what hurt us in that game. We all had our own mental breakdowns and that’s what made us dissolve as a team.”
Yet it was mental toughness, and the defense, that enabled the Jaguars to bounce back from that loss and go on a six-match winning streak to win the title.
“I worked with our assistant coach Greg (Wood) over the summer,” Herestofa said. “Every time I did something wrong he would say, ‘You’re thinking too much, just get in there and play. I want you to play loose,’ and that really helped me, especially at the end of the season. We were all able to play loose, have fun and enjoy our time out there.
“Everyone had that mentality, Gabby, Sydney, Megan (Scott), me, Amber (Goldberg) and all of the hitters. We wanted it so badly. We wanted to leave here with such a good memory, that we did everything we could to better everyone on the team. It was such a great run. I still find it a little hard to believe I was a part of it. It’s something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”
And to think it all started with Herestofa passing the ball to herself at her sister’s games many years ago. She just had to find her niche, which she eventually did.
“When you’re able to find something like that it’s like finding another family, it opens up a whole new world,” Herestofa said. “You’re able to go there and just lose yourself in the sport. Anytime I have something to do, homework or something that stresses me out a little bit, I go to volleyball and that’s what I focus on. It makes me happy and I think it makes me a better person.”