Delone Catholic’s Faith Athey (23) improved vastly from year to year during the course of her volleyball career.  One that ended with a selection as
Delone Catholic's Faith Athey (23) improved vastly from year to year during the course of her volleyball career. One that ended with a selection as The Evening Sun's All-Area Girls' Volleyball Player of the Year for 2011. (THE EVENING SUN --- FILE)
Delone Catholic High head girls' volleyball coach Jason Leppo can joke about the decision now.

Three years ago, he wasn't sure whether to keep Faith Athey in her freshman year. She had enviable height -- she was 5-foot-11 -- to develop into a good volleyball player, but her volleyball experience was short.

"She could not serve to save her life," Leppo said of the current senior. "She was pretty raw. All she was was kind of tall. Some of the other coaches and I joke about it now. Several didn't think she should've made the team (her) freshman year."

He decided to keep Athey of the 10 or 11 freshmen who tried out that year. She rewarded her coach by staying between two-a-day practice sessions and serving an entire cart worth of balls. Once the cart was empty, she collected the balls, moved to the other side of the court and started the process again.

"I thought, 'One day, I'm going to get that ball over the net,'" Athey said. "I finally learned how to serve my freshman year. I learned how to play volleyball my freshman year."

Athey, the 2011 All-Area Girls' Volleyball Player of the Year, had achieved the goal she set for herself of making the volleyball team her freshman year, something that nearly didn't happen.

She sat on the bench during her middle school years and didn't think about trying out for the high school team. Her father, Carl, who is 6-3, encouraged her to do so. He kept reminding his daughter that her height would give her an advantage.

One thing: She hated how tall she was.

"But now that I'm playing volleyball, I wish I was taller," said Athey, who is 6-1. "I had the advantage of being tall. I was still growing. I just went for it."

She moved to varsity her sophomore year, another preseason goal she set, but was still improving.

"She was a player that we would've said go through the middle with our offense," Hanover coach Reagan Bitler said. "By her senior year, 'Don't go to the middle, don't go to the middle. Make her move.' Her skill development over the last three years has been tremendous."

When she graduates, Leppo knows he'll be missing at least one thing about her.

"The witty remarks in the middle of timeouts," he said. "I don't know where they're going to come from. It's going to be an adjustment. I'll be sad to see her go. We're going to miss her like crazy."

Athey said her favorite target is Leppo's mannerisms and that her acting comes in good fun.

"I always memorize them for some reason," she said. "He always gets down on one knee and points at us. I'll repeat it back to him to aggravate the crap out of him."

Athey credits Leppo and playing club volleyball for her improvement. She finished this season with 162 kills, 64 blocks and 239 points.

That leads to the preseason goal she set before both her junior and senior seasons: play NCAA Division I volleyball. While she would still like to, she said she's more preoccupied with playing on a good team, regardless of division.

"The experience as a whole," Athey said, "shows that you can start completely not knowing anything and improve so much."

dpaulling@eveningsun.com; 717-637-3736, extension 139