Avon’s Gard­ner named Miss Vol­ley­ball

Four-year starter to­taled 299 ca­reer digs, is bound for Kent State

The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH) - - SPORTS - By Marissa McNees mm­c­nees@morn­ingjour­nal.com @Maris­saNM on Twit­ter

Avon se­nior Erin Gard­ner re­ceived Lorain County’s high­est vol­ley­ball honor Nov. 14 when she was named 2017 Miss Vol­ley­ball at the Lorain County Coaches As­so­ci­a­tion All-Star Game.

Gard­ner be­comes the third Avon ath­lete to be named Miss Vol­ley­ball since the first award was given out in 1985. Rosie

Sch­nei­der re­ceived the award in 1989 and, most re­cently, Liz Zol­los won in 2014.

“There’s so much tal­ent in Lorain County and I just feel so blessed and happy that I could re­ceive this award,” Gard­ner said.

Gard­ner was a four-year starter for the Ea­gles and led the team to a back-to-back South­west­ern Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship and its third straight district fi­nals ap­pear­ance.

In 67 reg­u­lar-sea­son sets, she to­taled 299 digs (4.5 per set) and had five games with 20-plus digs, had 76 as­sists and was over 90 per­cent in both serv­ing and serve re­ceive.

On top of that, Gard­ner earned Lorain County Divi­sion I Player of the Year, South­west­ern Con­fer­ence Player of

the Year and first-team alld­is­trict for District 3.

But it’s not her statis­tics that set the Kent State­bound de­fen­sive spe­cial­ist apart from the com­pe­ti­tion. Ac­cord­ing to Avon coach Julie Bendzuck, it’s her pas­sion and com­mit­ment to the game.

“There’s cer­tain things you can coach and cer­tain things you can’t coach, and when you go to col­lege she’s go­ing to be among other schol­ar­ship ath­letes, but I feel the one thing that’s go­ing to sep­a­rate her is her ex­treme pas­sion for this game,” Bendzuck said. “It’s ev­ery time she steps on this court . ... You can try to get that out of kids but that’s just some­thing that has to come from within your­self and that’s just the type of per­son she is.”

Gard­ner grew up in Avon and has gone through the Ea­gles’ vol­ley­ball pro­gram since mid­dle school. When she en­tered her fresh­man year, Bendzuck said the 5-foot-5 Gard­ner could have played any po­si­tion, but at the time the team was lack­ing in de­fense. The coaches worked her in the back row and it has been pay­ing off for Avon ever since.

“I’ve been in Avon since, like, kin­der­garten,” Gard­ner said. “Grow­ing up I would go to the Lit­tle Ea­gles camps and do all that fun stuff and just one day hope to be on the var­sity court.”

“She’s one of the best play­ers to ever go through Avon, so I think that in it­self speaks vol­umes,” Bendzuck added. “She could have played any po­si­tion for us but since her fresh­man year when she came in we needed de­fense so that’s kind of where we put here. Clearly that’s def­i­nitely her strength. but she’s just an all-around amaz­ing vol­ley­ball player . ... I knew when she was on the court we were go­ing to have en­ergy, we were go­ing to get the job done and we were go­ing to play with pas­sion.

“Ev­ery­one loves the hit­ters, ev­ery­one loves the set­ters, but she plays fear­lessly and, as a libero, that’s what you want.”

Gard­ner will head to Kent State in Jan­uary after grad­u­at­ing early from Avon, but be­fore she leaves, she hopes to im­part that fear­less at­ti­tude on her team­mates and fu­ture Ea­gles who have watched her from the stands all these years.

“I just hope I left be­hind a ‘no re­grets’ at­ti­tude when you’re on the court,” Gard­ner said. “Be­cause at the end of the day, it’s go­ing to end some time, so you want to have no re­grets and give ev­ery­thing you have ev­ery time you step on the court.”

RANDY MEY­ERS — THE MORN­ING JOUR­NAL

Miss Vol­ley­ball Erin Gard­ner serves dur­ing the All-Star game.

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