Courtney Wrigley has come far, much further than many of her younger teammates on the Shoreham-Wading River High School girls volleyball team might expect.
Back when Wrigley was an 11-year-old, one of some 80 hopefuls trying out for a middle school team, she was far from the polished player she has become. Two years later, Shoreham coach Megan Johnson saw Wrigley for the first time. She recalled Wrigley as being awkward and uncoordinated. But Johnson also saw something else: potential. A wealth of potential.
“I knew she had a lot of potential and she had the work ethic to get a lot better,” Johnson said. “She still had the raw talent.”
Wrigley is a prime example of the adage that players are made, not born. So much behind-the scenes work and hours of offseason training with club teams went into the development of the senior middle hitter.
Wrigley played two years on that middle school team, immediately falling in love with volleyball. She was in eighth grade when she began playing club ball, which she continues to play. As a freshman, she made a few appearances with the varsity team before becoming a varsity starter as a sophomore.
And look at what type of a player the 5-foot-11 Wrigley has become. She hammers the ball with thunderous spikes. Her passing is accurate. When she rotates to the back row she is an asset there, too. And her jump floater serve is reliable.
Wrigley was an All-Conference choice last year and received the team’s Brick Wall Award, which goes to its top blocker.
This past season Wrigley led Shoreham into the playoffs.
“For us she rocks in the middle,” Johnson said. “Other coaches definitely come up to me and are like, ‘Man, where did that girl come from? Was she on the team last year? Is she a senior?’ It’s hard not to notice that she just stands out on the court. I couldn’t be more happy with her performance this season.”
Wrigley’s long journey has involved sacrifice. Players don’t play the way she plays without sacrifice. That means a lot of time away from friends, a lot of time spent in gyms throughout the country. It means spending two hours in a gym with no air conditioning, diving to the floor for one ball after another.
“I work really hard at what I want to do,” said Wrigley, who also carries a 3.9 grade-point average. “I never want to be the worst. I’ll never be the worst because of that.”
Wrigley said a big jump for young players is the one from middle school to the junior varsity team.
“You could be a star on middle school and you could barely make the JV team,” she said. “There is such a gap between the middle school and the high school level. I saw myself as one of the stronger players on middle school, but once I got up to the high school, I was like, ‘There’s a lot more of a journey that I need to go [on] if this is what I want to do, if I want to succeed.’ ”
If there is one player who can truly appreciate what Johnson does for the Wildcats, it is Margo Gordon. As a libero, the junior has a front-row seat to Wrigley’s work at the net. When Gordon was called up to the varsity team last year, she saw Wrigley play for the first time and it made a lasting impression.
“I remember the setter setting her the ball and her just smashing it down,” Gordon said. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! What am I walking into?’ She is such an aggressive player that it stands out when she’s on the court.”
Midway through her sophomore season, Wrigley landed the wrong way in a match in East Hampton and tore five of the six ligaments in her right ankle. “My bones were separated by two centimeters of fluid, so I needed two ankle reconstruction surgeries,” she said. “I was out of sports for six months, three months on crutches.”
When she returned to the court, she said, she wasn’t swinging the same and had trouble putting serves over the net. “Then you work and you work, and I’m better than I could have imagined,” she said.
Wrigley still bears a scar on the ankle as a reminder.
“I think that really is what gave me such an appreciation for every minute out on the court,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Johnson said she thought Wrigley had reached her best — until this season. ”She blew that away,” said the coach.
Wrigley is also lauded for being a good teammate.
“She’s given me so many tips on how to improve, how to get better and what drills I should do,” Gordon said. “She knows what it takes to go from playing mediocre and then just working your way up and trying to be the best you can become. Honestly, thank gosh for Courtney because I don’t know what I would have done because she gets on the court, she amps everyone up in a way. She makes you feel confident about what you’re doing by spreading her confidence.”
Wrigley has decided not to play for a college. She is considering attending Boston University, Cornell University or Virginia Tech.
“I got a few offers, but my academics is the most important thing to me, but I will continue to play club and we’ll see,” she said. “You never know what can happen in those four years.”
As for all the sacrifices she has made to become a better player, Wrigley doesn’t have any regrets. She said, “To become good at your sport, there’s a lot to sacrifice in order to get to where you want to be and if you take those sacrifices and risks, you’ll get there.”
Photo caption: It has been a long journey for Courtney Wrigley, who put in countless hours of training to become the player she is. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)