Unique honor: Neal, a libero, named MVP

PUNXSUTAWNEY — When it comes to volleyball, the hitters get all the glory.

Their devastating kills leave the crowd in awe and the opposition in pain.

That's what makes Hannah Neal's recognition as the 2010 District IX Class AA/AAA Volleyball Player of the Year all the more amazing, considering she started out of the libero position in every match but one this season.

Neal, a senior captain who helped lead the Lady Chucks to their sixth-straight district championship, spent the first three years of her varsity career as a middle hitter. In order to fulfill a team need this season, Neal accepted a switch to the libero position, and she became even more of an asset to Punxsy after the position change.

"She just didn't switch into that position — she looked like an absolute natural," Punxsy head coach Lisa Good said. "She has a terrific amount of court awareness, leadership, athleticism and competitiveness. Wrap all that into one, and you have an awesome libero."

Neal morphed from a hitter/blocker who would play quality defense during the first three years with the Lady Chucks into a defensive specialist who led Punxsy with 408 digs in 2010. Neal was the only Punxsy player to amass more than 200 digs this season.

More than 25 percent of the time this season, Neal was the one receiving the opposition's serve or making the diving dig on a tip or kill attempt.

"I am so happy for her. For the coaches to vote a libero as an MVP is a real testament to how we run our program here at Punxsy," Good said. "I have always coached that defense is of the utmost importance. Without that good serve reception, or without that good first pass on defense, you fall flat as a team."

Neal was a star ever since she stepped foot in Punxsy training camp as a freshman. Not only did she become seven-year coach Good's first freshman to start, but Neal made an immediate impact.

She was second on the team in digs (219) and blocks (44) as a freshman, along with tallying a third-best 125 kills that season.

In 2008 and 2009, Neal led the team in digs with 301 and 381, respectively. She was also second in blocks both seasons and managed a career-best 228 service points in 2008.

"She developed into a very efficient, consistent and strong middle hitter," Good said. "I can't say enough about all the sacrifices she has made to make herself into a better player and to make the team play at a championship level."

Neal joins Alexis Bianco (2008), Alee Kromer (2007) and Heather Good (2006) as Punxsy's most recent district players of the year. Kane's Amelia Kepler earned last year's honor.