Harmotto's volleyball journey on to London
It was the type of gossip Terry Borkovic likes to hear.
As the Hopewell girls volleyball coach arrived at an open gym session last week, he couldn't help but notice his players chatting about one person: Christa Harmotto.
For good reason, too. The 25-year-old Hopewell alum had just been selected to the U.S. Olympic team set to compete later this month in London.
“She's their idol,” Borkovic said.
It's hard to find a better role model for the young players. Picking up the game in middle school at the behest of Borkovic — then Harmotto's gym teacher — her career has been a model of consistency, marked by individual and team success at all levels.
“You've trained and gone through a roller coaster, physically and mentally,” said Harmotto, a 6-foot-2 middle blocker. “You get to that day, and it's such a blessing to reach that goal you prepared for.”
Harmotto won three WPIAL titles and a state championship with the Vikings before graduating in 2005 and embarking on a collegiate career at Penn State that included a pair of national championships and All-American selections.
After joining the national team straight out of college in 2009 — and most recently helping the U.S. to a third straight World Grand Prix title this month — Harmotto had a resume more than worthy for the 12-player Olympic roster.
The journey from Beaver County to London took more than a decade with plenty of stops between, but she'll never forget the start.
“I always remember that time when Coach Borkovic started recruiting the players in gym class,” Harmotto said. “It's cool to be where I am now and think about that one decision, that one person asking you to play.
“It's so cool, the connections and people you carry through this experience.”
Borkovic, too, reflects on the early years of Harmotto's career, and he knew big things were to come. But the Olympics?
“Actually, I did,” he said. “She made it her goal to be the best player she could be. At the end of her sophomore year, she made the junior national team. You could see the seeds being planted.”
While Harmotto made a relatively smooth transition between high school and elite-level collegiate volleyball, she said the move the national team in May 2009 was an emotional experience.
“It's a four-year tryout, in a sense,” she said. “Every day in that gym is competitive. There are times it was hard to walk in that gym. Your identity can get messed up in this gym, because it's now your job.”
She credits her faith for guiding her through the tough times, though. And her skills did the rest of the work — at the World Grand Prix, she averaged 3.23 points, 1.31 blocks and 1.74 kills per set.
Now a member of a favored U.S. squad trying to win its first Olympic gold, Harmotto is prepared for the global spotlight.
“I'm not looking at it from so much of a pressure standpoint, but there's some hunger there,” she said. “It's great to be a part of this group. ... I look forward to whatever is in store.”
Dan Stefano is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-380-5697.