LANGLEY — Ask Trinity Western women’s volleyball coach Ryan Hofer what the most challenging aspects have been for his star rookie hitter Savannah Purdy to adjust to in joining a line-up that has gone into the Canada West winter break as the No. 1 team in the nation, and he correctly amends the question.
“We were a team last year that didn’t make the national tournament, so actually, Savannah has been a piece to help us become the No. 1-ranked team,” says Hofer of the 6-foot-2 outside hitter from Victoria’s Belmont Secondary. “She is one of the most decorated players to ever enter our program.”
In fact, you barely need to turn the pages in the history of Spartans’ women’s volleyball history to understand just how quickly the pure freshman Purdy has announced her presence on the U Sports’ national stage: The Nov. 30-Dec. 1 weekend at the Langley Events Centre.
That’s when, as part of a first-half ending weekend sweep of the Calgary Dinos that pushed Trinity Western’s record to a perfect 12-0, Purdy put on a performance which made it scary to think just what level her game might be at by the time she becomes a fifth-year senior in 2022-23.
In the rarefied atmosphere of a national No. 1 vs. No. 2 clash, it was the second-ranked Spartans who rallied from 0-2 down to win (14-25, 23-25, 29-27, 25-16, 15-11), getting a match-high 22 kills from a player about four months removed from her high school graduation ceremonies back in the provincial capital.
And even more refreshing of all is a trait which Hofer calls simply “her humble spirit.”
Purdy, in fact, can’t hide it, despite the fact that as the holiday break began she was sitting 10th in the conference in kills (137), good enough for second on the team behind third-year Hilary Howe (7th, 141).
“Coming in, I didn’t know where I would fit so I just wanted to contribute in any way I could,” she says, “so just being able to get on the court and contribute has been amazing and a great start to my university career.”
HER PERFECT CHOICE
As elusive as it is to try to describe, it seems pretty clear that Savannah Purdy has arrived in the place that every student-athlete wants to find when she or he makes that transition from high school to university life.
In her case, it’s likely no accident that she locked on to the vibe she picked up on the first moment she visited the Langley campus on a recruiting trip, because the parallels in team building between both Hofer and Purdy’s high school coach at Belmont, Mike Toakley, seem perfectly simpatico.
Of course the dynamics between a university and high school team will never be exactly the same. Yet guiding principles can be.
Back in late November of 2017, just before Purdy led the Bulldogs to their second straight B.C. Quad-A title where she would once again named tourney MVP, Toakley observed the level of player-ownership that had become part-and-parcel of the team’s DNA.
And in describing one particular instance in which Purdy and her teammates huddled together and worked themselves out of a jam in a completely ego-less manner, Toakley commented: “…it made me realize that we have a lot of leaders in our group, but not a lot of bosses.”
That same season at Trinity Western, Hofer observed a similarly organic development in team dynamics coming to the fore courtesy of since-graduated star middle blocker Katie Devaney, whom the coach says brought forth something of an equality movement within the team, to insure a more welcoming environment for all players, including rookies.
“Katie really wanted to make sure we didn’t have a big hierarchy on this team,” Hofer told Varsity Letters last season. “She wanted to eliminate all barriers. So what she’s ended up doing is more service herself. I think she has seen how hierarchy can fracture relationships.”
No hierarchy. Leaders, not bosses.
It may not seem like a huge deal, but you can’t discount the effects that just such an environment can have on an uber-talented freshman who has been able to come in and know she can display her full palette of talents without overstepping those traditional team boundaries.
WINNING FOLLOWS HER EVERYWHERE
Savannah Purdy is certainly not the loudest voice you’re going to hear on a Canada West volleyball court, yet if you’re a good judge of figurative volume, the kind where actions speak just as loud as words, then what Purdy did over the club season of her senior year of high school clearly proved how serious she was about wanting to hit the ground running as a Spartan.
As much as it hurt to leave her Victoria-area friendships behind within the capital city’s club volleyball world, she felt that for her own development, she needed to join the Fraser Valley Volleyball Club where she could grow as a player and begin to build chemistry with several incoming TWU players.
Of course to do it, it basically meant turning the B.C. Ferries into a second home for the duration of the club season.
“One week, I remember I made six ferry trips back and forth,” laughs Purdy, who would hitch a ride with her dad whenever he had business on the Lower Mainland, but also lean on the generosity of FVVC players and even their parents, for rides to and from the terminal.
“It was really difficult to leave my former team because I had a lot of close friends,” added Purdy who helped FVVC to fourth place at the nationals. “But in the end it was a choice I made for myself and it gave me a good experience coming into Trinity Western.”
Hofer kept a close eye on Purdy’s play through the non-conference portion of the preseason, and by the time the Canada West season was set to open at home to Regina on Oct. 19, what he had seen of her as a high school player, and what he figured would transpire in her transition to the next level was spot on.
“When I watched her in high school, watched her attacking skills, I thought ‘Wow, this girl has every shot there is, can pass really well and defend really well’ but I don’t know if this will translate to the U Sports game,” said Hofer.
“Well, we went all the way through the preseason and I played my entire personnel and afterwards, she had one of the highest kill efficiencies, and one of the highest pass efficiencies. So not only was she one of the top attackers, she was now one of the best passers and that was such a nice package to get on the floor.”
Purdy admits she “got a rude awakening” at the start of the preseason when she discovered what worked at Belmont wasn’t going to work at the Canada West level.
“The big change from high school was how big the block was,” said Purdy who is contemplating a potential career as a speech therapist down the road. “So my shot range was the first thing I tried to change and expand. In high school I could swing aimlessly and get away with it. But as soon as I tried that in practice, I got blocked. I just had to be more conscious in my head about where I make a shot.”
Hofer has watched that humble spirit remain constant in the acceptance of every new challenge.
“She really does have a humble spirit,” Hofer says of the way Purdy carries herself, which is at once in contrast to so many plus-skilled athletes. “And she doesn’t flaunt it.”
That’s the best kind of triple-threat imaginable: To be as talented as you are hard-working as you are humble.
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