For Harper, There Is No Place She Would Rather Be
Oct. 8, 2012
By: Matt Bertram, Maryland Media Relations
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - It was a simple email. It was a simple email junior Sarah Harper happened to read while taking a break during the middle of study hall. It was a simple email that caused her to jump up and signal to all of her surrounding friends -- Maryland wanted to see her play. At that moment, she was destined to be a Terrapin.
"I got an email from Maryland around Thanksgiving," said Harper. "I was like, 'This is it.' That is what I want to do. My ultimate goal was to play Division I volleyball and I wanted to play in the ACC. That was my dream."
"I was in elementary school and I would go to her games and just bat the ball around. I just fell in love with it. She has always been my inspiration to play, so whenever she would be there I would be there."
A native of Charlottesville, Va., Sarah attended Western Albemarle High School where she helped lead the Warriors to four Jefferson District titles and three state tournament appearances.
Individual accolades didn't elude Sarah either while at Western Albemarle. She earned Region II Player of the Year honors and Jefferson District Player of the Year honors in 2008. She was a three-time first team all-district member, a two-time first team all-region member, and a two-time first team all-state honoree while setting numerous offensive records at the Crozet, Va., high school.
An offensive force in high school, the diminutive Harper only stands 5-foot-4. But what she lacks in size, she made up for in sheer competitiveness.
"She's a small girl playing a big girl's sport, but what she lacks in size, she makes up for in intensity, focus, and real fierce competitive drive," said former Western Albemarle head volleyball coach Lance Rogers in an interview with WVIR-TV in November. "She is fiercely competitive. If you could score stretching, she would try to win that. She wants to win everything, and that really comes in handy when you're playing volleyball. It's a combination of great physical skills and focus and determination, and she loves to play volleyball. She just loves to play volleyball, and it all came together for her."
"Height has never been an issue for me," said Harper. "I have never been scared of anyone. I just go out and play."
However, when it came time for college, only a handful of suitors reached out. Most of the attention came from smaller Division I programs and local schools such as Central Michigan, James Madison, Norfolk State and West Virginia Wesleyan. With the lack of exposure, many schools missed the potential Maryland saw in Sarah as a libero. But that meant Sarah would need to transition from a primarily offensive player to a strictly a defensive stopper.
"The transition from outside hitter to libero was a little tough, but it was good for me because I understood if I wanted to achieve my dream I needed to make that switch. I understood that is what had to happen. So that was good coming in and knowing that.
"It is really funny because in high school we would be practicing defense and I was like I don't want to do this. I hated defense. It's completely different than everything. You can't kill a ball and get like really excited. You can just take those away from people. I'm learning to like it a lot. It's nice."
It's a role head coach Tim Horsmon has seen Sarah embrace which has taken her from a walk-on her freshman season to a defensive stalwart. Last season, Sarah set the single-season school record for digs (569) and has become one of the premier liberos in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"Sarah is one of the most athletic kids I've coached in terms of how quick she is and how strong she is," said Horsmon. "She is really athletic. Watching her on video and scouting her, it became evident that she was an incredibly hard worker and probably one of the most consistent players in terms of work ethic. I think once she got the opportunity to play at this level she wanted to show everyone she could do it.
"Her performance every day on the court makes her a team leader. Every single day you know what you are going to get from her. She works hard in everything she does. She never takes a play off. For the younger players, it is really easy to point to Sarah and say that's how you are supposed to do it."
For Harper, it has been everything she could have hoped for. College Park's location affords her parents the opportunity to see her play, and she gets to play in the conference she always dreamed of playing."It was what was supposed to happen," said Harper. "Everything works out how it is supposed to. It wouldn't have been right to be anywhere else."