For three years, Grace Boyle has been the side story merely a spoke on the giant wheel that is Marian volleyball.
Despite contributing to a District 11 championship and an appearance in last year's state semifinals, Boyle still found herself getting lost in the enormous shadows set by Marykate Sherkness Marian's career kills leader and three-time TIMES NEWS Volleyball Player of the Year.
However, with Sherkness graduating last year, it was finally time for Boyle to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
"I told the team at the beginning of the year that we needed to replace 400 kills and it was up to them to seize the opportunity," said Marian head coach John "Doc" Fallabel. "It was Grace's time to shine and she responded to that challenge in a big way. She had an absolutely unbelievable year and I couldn't be more proud of her."
Boyle thrived in her new role, taking over as a senior captain and helping to lead the Fillies to another dominant season that saw them go 24-2 while also becoming the second team in school history to capture the Schuylkill League, District 11 and PIAA Class A State Volleyball Championship all in the same season.
For her outstanding efforts both on and off the court, Boyle has been recognized as the 2013 TIMES NEWS Volleyball Player of the Year, which also marks the 20th consecutive year that a Marian player has won the award.
"My peers and predecessors have set a very high standard here at Marian," stated Boyle. "To be able to continue that tradition and live up to those high expectations is a tremendous honor."
In addition, Boyle was named the Schuylkill League Division IV Player of the Year, was recognized as the District 11 Class A Most Valuable Player and was selected to the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class A All-State team.
"Grace's volleyball ability comes from sheer determination, hard work and a strong will to succeed," added Fallabel. "She truly represents what Marian volleyball is all about, which is progressing through the program and making something of herself."
As a three-year starter at outside hitter, Boyle compiled 321 kills, 120 digs and 58 aces during her freshman, sophomore and junior campaigns. However, in her senior season, Boyle amassed 300 kills (first on the team), 271 digs (second on the team), 56 aces and a 0.247 hitting percentage. Her 621 career kills ranks ninth all-time at Marian.
"The 300 kills are fantastic, but the thing I'm most impressed with are the 271 digs because she did that by only playing half the time in the back row" noted Fallabel.
From an offensive perspective, part of her success this year was the discovery of a shoot set, a quick low set to the left side hitter, which played to Boyle's strengths.
"When we implemented the shoot set, that made all the difference in the world," lauded Fallabel. "If you give her too much time to think about attacking a ball with a high set, her approach and timing get out of sync. The shoot set is perfect for Grace because she reacts so quickly. We told her that as soon as the ball touches the setter's hands, she needs to be up in the air at the net, so that was kind of her calling card this year."
Despite a more balanced offense than in year's past, Boyle led the team in kills in the majority of their matches, including an eight kill performance in the 25-16, 25-23, 25-17 victory over Cochranton in the State Championship.
"Last year we fell short of our goal of winning the State Championship, so to be able to do it this year with this group of girls was just a perfect end to my Marian career," stated Boyle. "It was just an incredible experience that I'll never forget."
While Boyle might have officially wrapped up her scholastic playing career, she plans to stick around the program this winter to help coach the Anthracite Volleyball Club's 14-and-under AAU team.
"I'm really looking forward to coaching the younger girls because that's there's where I got my start," added Boyle. "I want to take everything that I've learned over the years and use it to help these younger girls grow into Marian volleyball players. I also think it will help me to become a better leader as I embark on the next stage of my playing career."
While Boyle is still undecided on where that may be, she definitely plans on playing volleyball at the collegiate level while majoring in business.
"This season has been a dream come true but I couldn't have done any of it without my team. They're not only the best teammates, but they're also my best friends," concluded Boyle. "I'd also like to thank my coaches for seeing my potential and pushing me to achieve it, as well as my family who has supported me through everything."
As a leader by example this year, Grace Boyle's spotlight didn't cast a shadow for others to follow. Instead, it produced a reflection for others to emulate.