Guy Dossi
The Union Democrat

Annie Abenth is a dreamer, however, she never thought her dream would come true. Abenth envisioned herself one day playing volleyball at a four-year university, but a lackluster high school career derailed any hopes of realizing her dream.

But that didn’t stop her.

After two seasons of playing volleyball at Columbia College, Abenth received a scholarship to play at Warner Pacific College, in Portland, Oregon.

Abenth is the first Claim Jumper to continue her post Columbia volleyball career in the two years that Rob Hoyt has been the head coach. While at the moment Hoyt is not surprised Abenth is furthering her career, at the beginning of the 2014 season, he wouldn’t have thought she would be the first to go.

“Going back two years ago, I wouldn’t have guessed that Annie would be my first girl to play at a four year school, that’s why it’s such a success story,” Hoyt said. “We had some good girls the last two years, but she just kept working and getting better. For her to benefit from Columbia College and the volleyball program here, it’s just a great thing.”

Abenth, 19, graduated from Summerville High in the spring of 2014. She played four years of high school volleyball, but once she made the varsity team, she spent the majority of her time watching games from the bench.

As a junior, she accepted that the senior girls had paid their dues and it was their moment to shine. But when her senior season came about, once again, she didn’t see much action.

“There were just better girls on the team,” Abenth said. “When I was a junior, I was fine with not playing because I knew that the seniors were better than me. But by the time I was a senior, I was like, ‘Why am I not playing?’”

While her senior season quickly moved along, Abenth could have gone the negative route and started to pass the blame on to others as to why she was not playing. However, she knew that it came down to one reason why she wasn’t on the floor.

“I just wasn’t good enough to play my senior year,” Abenth said. “There were still girls who were better than me, but it was just rough because it was my senior year. Even though I wasn’t playing, it was still awesome to be part of the sport.”

After her senior season, Abenth figured she played her last competitive volleyball game. She had plans to attend Monterey Peninsula College and focus on her education and not athletics, as she believed she wasn’t good enough.

Like many Tuolumne and Calaveras county high school seniors, the lure of Columbia College and the idea of saving money to stay local was too much to pass up. Once Abenth made the decision to attend Columbia in the fall of 2014, the seed of playing volleyball again was planted, and Hoyt was the one who made sure it was being watered.

“I talked to Rob and he told me that he really wanted me to play, so I came here and took advantage of the opportunity,” Abenth said. “I’ve always dreamed of playing volleyball in college, I just didn’t think that I could. So when Rob told me that I would actually be playing and that I would get touches on the ball and start, I just got really excited and agreed to play.”

Abenth had seen very little action prior to attending Columbia, so the level of competition was even more daunting for someone with very little experience. But Abenth didn’t let that stand in front of her from finally getting that long awaited playing time.

“At first it was intimidating because I hadn’t played very much and I was a libero, so I was passing their (her opponents) crazy, aggressive hits,” Abenth said. “It was really cool to test my limits and to see what I could do and it was really inspiring to see players that good. Everybody has the potential to become that good if they work hard enough.”

After her freshman season, Abenth returned for her sophomore year and switched from libero to setter. She had never played the position, but by the end of the season, she was a veteran.

With the 2015 season coming to a close, Abenth began weighing her options for life after Columbia. Her 3.0 GPA was good enough that any four year school would welcome her. But she not only wanted to be a student, but continue to be an athlete.

“Toward the end of the season, I thought, why not see what else is out there,” Abenth said. “I got really lucky with this opportunity to play at Columbia, so I wondered if there was a volleyball team like the one here, only at a four year school.”

Abenth began the recruiting process and did it on her own. Her grass-roots style of promoting herself took off, and over time, she began to get interest from schools all across the country.

“The recruiting was tough, but it was cool advocating for myself and putting myself out there for the first time,” Abenth said.

“She put the effort in and she went out and marketed herself and proved her skill level,” Hoyt said. “She met with all the right people on her own. She went out and got it done. So she’s a trailblazer in the sense that she is an example that, you can do this if you really want to do this.”

She received an offer from a school in Pennsylvania, and after that, the offers rolled in. For Abenth to go from not being good enough to play her junior or senior season in high school, to getting offers from colleges across the country, was a sense of accomplishment she had never felt before.

“I thought I would reach out to these schools and never hear anything back,” Abenth said. “But for a big college to want you to play for them is the best feeling ever because I never thought it would happen. It’s so cool to have options and to be able to choose between schools that wanted me was really nice.”

While a lot of the offers were good, there was one that was great. The Warner Pacific Knights, a division II school, were so impressed with Abenth and what they saw on film, a volleyball scholarship was offered.

Warner Pacific University is a Christian, liberal arts school located in Southeast Portland and was founded in 1937.

While the scholarship offer sealed the deal, other factors came into play for Abenth when choosing Warner Pacific.

“It’s a lot closer than Pennsylvania,” Abenth laughed. “I didn’t think that I would play for a D2 school, I didn’t think that was possible. The coach (Nels Norquist) ended up getting back to me, asked for game film and ended up offering me a scholarship. The school is beautiful. Norquist is awesome. He’s super nice and inviting. And the team is pretty good. It’s better than all the other teams that I looked at.”

For Abenth being the first Jumper to make the transition to community college ball to a four-year university under the Hoyt, he could not be more proud. He knows that Western Pacific is not only getting a good player, but a quality young woman.

“She’s just a go-getter and is very enthusiastic about being able to play,” Hoyt said. “Her first year here she was kind of finding her way and her second year she was just an all-around really good teammate and the all-around best skill set that we’ve had in the program since I’ve been here.”