Liz Wait had reason to jump for joy Monday even before her unbeaten Andover volleyball team kicked off its postseason campaign with a win.
That was because, approximately an hour before game time, Wait was informed by coach George Sullivan that she had been named one of the top 15 Division 1 players from across the state by the Massachusetts Coaches Association.
“It is honestly something I never dreamed would happen,” said an overjoyed Wait. “I never thought I would be someone who would be winning awards, even on my team. A couple of years ago, I wasn’t a starter on the JV team.”
Just over a year ago, Wait was scared she would not even make the varsity team during her junior year tryouts after spending two seasons on the bench with the JV team. But this season, Wait has emerged as one of the top volleyball players in the state, winning league co-MVP honors and leading her team into tomorrow’s Division 1 North final against North Andover with a 22-0 record.
“She has come a long way,” said Sullivan. “I was talking to her mother and Liz was really afraid she was going to be cut last year. But she has been so passionate and so dedicated to the game. She has been a dream to have.”
After struggling to find playing time on the JV squad in her first two high school seasons,
Wait knew she had her work cut our for her last summer when she prepared to try out for the powerhouse Golden Warrior varsity team.
“I had no idea what was going to happen, so I pushed myself with one goal in mind, of making the team,” she said. “I woke up early every morning and worked out very day, even when I wanted to sleep in. I played club volleyball all year. I told myself, even if I was just sitting on the bench, I wanted to be on the varsity team. And if I didn’t make it, I would know I gave it everything I had in my heart.”
Once tryouts for the 2011 season kicked off, Wait immediately impressed the coaching staff.
“She came out and was ready to rock and roll,” said Sullivan.
“She had done so much work. Everyone was saying, ‘Wow, this kid is great!’ We knew we had to find a spot for this kid.”
At the same time, the Golden Warriors, as it turned out, were also looking to find a new middle hitter to replace graduated star Moira Cronin.
Despite the fact that Wait had never played middle hitter before, playing outside and right side hitter throughout her career, and at 5-foot-8 standing shorter than a traditional middle hitter, the then-junior was given the opportunity to win the position.
“I was excited because I got to start with a clean slate with the coaches,” she said. “Since I am shorter, I had to learn it’s a mental game. It’s not all about how tall you are and how high you can jump.
“You see pictures of Central Catholic’s (6-foot-1) Amanda Williams in the paper and her elbows are above the net. I had to learn about hitting to the open spots. But it also motivated me to jump higher because I am shorter.”
Wait not only settled into the position, she excelled, earning All-MVC honors in her first varsity campaign. But that was just a preview of what Wait would accomplish this season.
Through the end of the regular season this fall, Wait led the Golden Warriors in kills (157), leading the team in all but five matches this season, overall blocks (101) and solo blocks (64).
She was at her best against arch-rival Central Catholic, when she had 17 kills and seven blocks in a key victory — that all while leading the team on a surprise unbeaten run.
For her efforts, she was named Merrimack Valley Conference Division 1 co-Player of the Year last week, and this week took home the honors from the Mass. Coaches Association.
Wait and the rest of her team now hope to keep their perfect season alive with a run at the Division 1 state title.
“As good as we were, I never thought we’d be undefeated,” she said.
“We may not have the best player we have ever had at certain positions, but we have lots of players that are willing to do anything they can to help the team. If we keep doing that and playing the way we can, who knows what we can accomplish.”