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Harrell Wins Volleyball Big East Freshman of the Year

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Courtesy of Villanova Athletics
Freshman outside hitter Abby Harrell is the third Wildcat to earn Big East Freshman of the Year.

Villanova outside hitter Abby Harrell started playing volleyball in elementary school in her hometown of Ellensburg, Washington. She played in her community sports league that only met once a week for practice and had one game on the weekend. In sixth grade, her mom brought her to a club tryout “on a whim.”

“I wanted to be more involved in it,” Harrell said. “I ended up making the team that started my competitive volleyball journey.”

That journey has led her to Villanova, where Harrell was named as the 2023 Big East Freshman of the Year and was named to the 2023 All-Big East team.

Harrell later attended Ellensburg Public High School and was on the varsity volleyball team for all four years. Harrell was team captain for three years and was also awarded conference player of the year in her sophomore, junior and senior years of high school. Also during her high school career, Harrell played on a club team in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, three hours from Ellensburg, called College Preparatory Academy Volleyball Club (CPA). She played in tournaments in California, Arizona and Nevada. Harrell’s commitment to her beloved sport in high school made the transition to college athletics a bit easier. 

“My parents were willing to drive me there three times a week. It was a big commitment, but I found a culture that was amazing and coaches that were incredibly supportive,” Harrell said. “They wanted to see me succeed in whatever goals I had. I just wanted to be a part of something that was that special.”            

Living nearly 2,300 miles away, the story of how Harrell landed at Villanova is quite the tale. She knew she wanted to play college volleyball since her freshman year of high school, so she started emailing coaches all over the West Coast in 2020. As it turns out, Villanova was nowhere near Harrell’s radar for college volleyball. 

“Villanova was one of the schools I didn’t reach out to personally,” Harrell said. “Before [the coaching staff] contacted me, I had never even heard of Villanova.”

Harrell got invited to a volleyball skills camp at Villanova in summer 2021. Two weeks later, she was on a Zoom call with the entire Villanova volleyball coaching staff and was offered a spot. She recalls that her internet connection was faulty and didn’t hear them ask the big question at first. 

In October, she came to Villanova for her first official visit. While meeting the coaches and some current players, Harrell fell in love with the school she now calls home. 

“I wanted to go somewhere where they wanted me,” Harrell said. “I didn’t want to go somewhere where they weren’t in line with the vision of who I wanted to become and what it took to get there.”

Harrell has already made a name for herself at Villanova. Across the short three-month season, she received Big East Freshman of the Week a total of five times, with four coming in the month of October. 

“It’s a cool moment when you grow up watching these teams play, then you are getting to play girls you’ve looked up to your whole life,” Harrell said.

The Big East Freshman of the Year pulled off 389 kills this season, a team high. After the team’s home match against Georgetown on Oct. 25, Villanova head coach Josh Steinbach joked about Harrell’s accolades.

“It’s getting boring right? She keeps winning every week,” Steinbach said. 

Now in the off-season, Harrell is looking forward to some well-deserved time off while still training with her teammates. She is excited to work on skills for the long-term and hopes to bring her team further in the Big East Tournament next season.

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