NEW BETHLEHEM, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Alivia Huffman’s least favorite subject to discuss is Alivia Huffman.
She doesn’t enjoy talking about herself.
Not at all.
She doesn’t crave attention. She doesn’t seek the limelight.
(Above photo, junior Alivia Huffman, left, and senior Lilly Shaffer hope for more big things this season for Redbank Valley volleyball)
The junior outside hitter on the Redbank Valley volleyball team would rather speak about the dream season the Bulldogs had in 2020, despite the shroud of COVID-19 hanging over them. She’d rather point out the success Redbank enjoyed, not the personal accolades she received, which included a Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association all-state selection.
Even when she delivers a thunderous kill, she rarely cheers for herself.
“But when one of her teammates makes a play,” said first-year Redbank Valley volleyball coach Ashley Anderson, “she’s the first one to cheer.”
Anderson has seen first-hand what Huffman and the Bulldogs can do. She played for former coach Matt Darr at Redbank and served as his assistant the last four years. Now at the helm, Anderson has quite a linchpin in Huffman.
“It’s exciting she’s only a junior,” Anderson said. “Being an all-state player as a sophomore, she has potential to do that for two more years. It’s good to have a player like that for two more years.
“What she does really well is talking up the whole team,” Anderson added. “She’s a very humble player. She has more goals as a team than she has as an individual player, and I think that says a lot about us and a lot about a player.”
Huffman was one of the stars on a Redbank team that went 21-2, won the District 9 Class 2A championship and reached the second round of the PIAA playoffs, where the Bulldogs run ended against WPIAL power North Catholic.
The Bulldogs’ only other loss last year was to the Class A state champion, Clarion.
In the District 9 2A title game against Keystone, Huffman had one of her best performances with 14 kills in the 3-1 victory.
Huffman spent the offseason trying to get even better — a scary thought for Redbank Valley opponents who will try to contain the powerful hitter this season.
“I was just always working,” Huffman said. “Always in the gym just doing whatever, whether it was basketball or volleyball, I always had a ball in my hands. I was working on being able to control my ball better and where to hit the ball.”
Huffman will again be one of the focal points of the Redbank Valley attack as the Bulldogs try to recreate the 2020 magic without nine seniors. One of those departed players, outside hitter Montana Hetrick, joined Huffman on the all-state team.
The bar has been set pretty high at Redbank.
“I feel like every year there’s pressure,” Anderson said. “Every year you want to do better than the last year. Yes, last year was definitely a year for the books, but these girls are coming in with big goals and big intentions, and I think with that mindset, they’ll be OK, and they can reach some of those goals again.”
Despite the graduation losses, there is a wealth of talent around Huffman.
Sophomore Caylen Rearick is the other returning starter at defensive specialist.
Freshman Taylor Ripple has been a pleasant surprise this offseason and in camp in the middle.
“She picks on things quick,” Anderson said. “She listens, and when you tell her something, she absorbs it. She’s just an all-around good person and good player.”
Senior Lilly Shaffer moves into the setter position full-time. She got some reps there last season behind Brooke Holben, who was one of the nine seniors lost to graduation.
“I definitely have some big shoes to fill this year with Brooke not returning, but this summer I’ve been hitting the ball against the wall, practicing with my teammates and making sure we have a solid season,” Shaffer said. “It’s my senior season, so I’m really excited and want to push the team as hard as I can to just go as far as we can.”
Huffman certainly has some big team goals, too. She wants to see Redbank go farther than it did last year, when it beat Chestnut Ridge in the first round of the state playoffs before running into North Catholic.
The Bulldogs gave the Trojanettes, who hadn’t lost a set in 12 straight games heading into the state quarterfinal, all they could handle. Redbank fell in the first set, 28-26, but stormed back to win the second, 25-22. North Catholic was able to nip the Bulldogs in the next two sets, however.
Still, it was a great learning experience and a great confidence boost for the program.
Anderson’s biggest problem now is trying to get playing time for all the talented players on her roster who are hoping to get a shot.
It’s a good conundrum to have.
“I told them in the beginning, ‘Make this hard for me,’” Anderson said. “I feel like they are showing me that. They are making it hard for me. There’s definitely a lot of talent across the board, which is exciting.”