Volleyball is a big players’ game. Always has been.
The booming hits, the towering blocks are what make the sport.
But as one Arizona high school coach put it, if there is ever a year for a defensive specialist to win the Player of the Year award, this is it.
Phoenix Xavier Prep senior libero Amanda Benson, all 5 feet and 6 inches of her, makes it so. To understand this, all you had to do was watch her play.
“It’s so difficult to put into words what she does,” Xavier Prep Tim McHale said. “Nikki Hess of (Phoenix) Horizon and Izzy Miller of (Phoenix) Arcadia, their stats speak for themselves. But with Amanda, there’s nothing you can throw out there to justify it. You have to see it first hand how great she is. The amazing thing about her is the bigger the match, the better she played. Just when you think a match has reached too high of a level, you see the plays that she makes … Oh dear Lord. Utterly amazing.”
In a season that saw a mass of players 6-feet and taller pound the ball into submission, it was a player that could walk under a volleyball net without bending her knees too much who stood out the most.
“She’s an amazing player,” Xavier senior middle blocker Megan O’Sullivan said. “It’s great to know that every time I’m out there, she takes over the whole floor.”
Benson proved to be not only the best libero in the state but in the country. Along with earning the Player of the Year award, Benson, who signed with Oregon, was the lone libero named to the U.S. women’s junior national team this summer and one of only two to be recently named to the 2012-2013 American Volleyball Coaches Association’s Under Armour Girls High School All-American first team.
“Being a libero and winning, this is amazing,” Benson said. “It’s such an honor, especially the fact that (liberos) aren’t on the outside getting the kills and the attention.”
At Xavier Prep this season, she recorded 725 digs this season. But it’s not about the total. It’s about how she was able to record them. How she could dig a ball sent to a spot twice her height away from her or one that was hit with force twice as much as she weighs. Not only does she get the dig, but the pass coming off of it is usually a ball that her teammates can set or even hit.
“There was a play in either the tournament semifinals against (Chandler) Hamilton or in the final (vs. Horizon) when there was a hole in our block and the opponent’s best player was absolutely going to pound the ball,” McHale said. “Then out of nowhere Amanda comes flying in. She overran her pursuit. And I thought ‘OK, this is the one that gets her killed. This is not going to end well.’ But somehow off a half-foot, falling backward, she overhands the ball and gets up a playable pass. It should have been a ball that either bounced off the floor or hit Amanda and sent 30 feet into the bleachers.
“You shake your head because that can’t be taught. That can’t be trained. She just has an unbelievable feel for the game.”