North Penn-Liberty’s Ali Koval making name for herself as one of best liberos
North Penn-Liberty libero Ali Koval is often the smallest player on the court, but the junior is frequently the best.
Koval has made a name for herself around the state as one of the premier liberos Pennsylvania volleyball has to offer. Her play in the state tournament has been phenomenal and she is one of the main reasons why North Penn-Liberty will play for a state title Saturday at Cumberland Valley High School against North Catholic at 1 p.m.
The newfound attention for Koval has come as a surprise to her.
“It’s kind of crazy, coming from such a small town, I never could have imagined any of it,” Koval said. “You don’t hear much about defensive players, so it feels great getting recognition, but it really just feels great knowing I tried my hardest and played my heart out during those games.”
Performances of 28 and 31 digs in the state quarterfinals and semifinals in just six total sets, along with not making a single serve receive error in those two matches, has catapulted her to new heights on the Pennsylvania volleyball scene. Pretty impressive for someone who last season sat and learned from NTL Defensive Player of the Year Savannah Doney.
“I knew everyone thought defense was going to be our weakest area, and coming in as starting libero from sitting the bench my first two years I don’t think people expected much from me,” Koval said. “I didn’t feel much pressure from anybody but myself. Everybody on the team knew what I was capable of, and so did coach (Jennifer) Nawri. They helped ease the pressure a lot. But I’m fairly hard on myself, and I came into this season with something to prove. I waited two years for that spot and I was going to prove that I earned it and deserved to be on the court”
Instead, defense has been the biggest strength for this Mountie team and they’ve shut down great attack after great attack. Koval has been at the center of it all. It was apparent early in the season when they held Millersville signee Caitlyn Callahan to just four kills in their first meeting with Wellsboro this year.
Koval actually started out as an outside hitter and only made the switch in her freshman year when “everyone kept growing and I didn’t.”
“I actually started as a hitter in sixth grade and moved into being a defensive specialist between eighth and ninth grade,” Koval said.
It was a transition that she eventually took to.
“In junior high and in club, I always played all the way around so I had offense and defense under my belt. I went to plyometrics with everybody and stuck with them hitting wise for a while with a decent vertical, but it just wasn’t for me,” Koval said. “I liked the adrenaline rush that I got playing back-row, always on my toes, never knowing what’s going to happen. It just felt like the right fit. (Club Coach) Bill Grega really helped me find my fit.”
Koval plays with a bit of a chip on her shoulder and a swagger about her. It’s something the position she plays requires. With the block covering other areas of the court, Koval is often dealing with lasers hit at her. Her natural personality suits the position. After a rare mistake she can often be found shaking her head at herself and smiling.
“I think it’s just my personality and I love volleyball so much, so I really just try to have fun and make the best of every situation,” Koval said. “I know that if things get too serious I won’t enjoy what I’m doing.”