Student Athlete Feature: Courtney Berry ‘21

W&L volleyball star remains hopeful for senior season

Crawford Humphreys

Courtney Berry’s contagious enthusiasm and positivity permeate into everything she does at Washington and Lee, whether it’s as an RUF leader, a University Tour Guide or a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.

But where Berry truly shines is on the volleyball court, where the three-year letterwinner dominates the middle blocker position while encouraging and energizing her teammates.

However, like many other senior athletes across W&L’s campus, Berry’s final chapter as a General could already be in the books, as the volleyball team’s 2020 campaign faces uncertainty in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet, the Virginia native remains optimistic and embraces the uncertainty of the coming months. Her focus remains on the team’s underclassmen and enjoying every second with her teammates.

“I have the mindset that every practice is a blessing,” Berry said. “Like let’s make the most of it and let’s really enjoy it and work hard to the point that we’re proud of the effort we put in.”

Berry’s volleyball career began in middle school just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, where she grew up watching her hometown University of Virginia’s volleyball team. Berry said it was the energy and enthusiasm of these games that drew her in. 

“Everyone was cheering all the time and it just seemed so fun,” Berry said. 

After getting cut from the middle school team, Berry began playing club volleyball and learning the basics before making the team the following school year. From there, Berry would move on to Western Albemarle High School, where she was named Central Virginia Player of the Year while picking up all-conference and all-region accolades in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

But when it came time for a college decision, Berry was split between playing volleyball at the Division III level or attending a state school like UVA as a normal student. However, after a recruiting visit to W&L where she went to classes and met the team, the decision became easier.

“My interactions with the team were so great,” said Berry. “They just really welcomed me in as a part of their family and a part of their group.”

It didn’t take Berry long to get adjusted to college volleyball, as she recorded one of the most remarkable first-year seasons in the history of the program. She was named ODAC Rookie of the Year and First Team All-ODAC while leading the conference in total blocks, blocks per set, and hitting percentage. She also snagged a spot in W&L history books with a record 135 blocks as a freshman.

Berry continued her momentum into her sophomore season, where she was third in the ODAC in hitting percentage and earned Third Team All-ODAC distinction on her way to an ODAC Championship win for the Generals. After a successful junior season, Berry was named captain of the team for her senior year. 

“It really means a lot just because I got to see so many captains walk before me,” Berry said. “I reaped the benefits of their labor, meaning I got to be cared for and now I kind of get to pass that legacy on.”

The players-only vote was a testament to Berry’s role as an energetic leader on the court and a selfless friend off the court to everyone involved with the program.

“Courtney has shown me what it means to be a leader on a team,” said Maggie McSwain, ‘23. “Last year before she was even a captain, she was always the most encouraging, energetic, and committed player on the court. No matter how you or the team played, Courtney always had something positive to say about every person on the team.”

It is this kind of tight-knit culture that the volleyball team prides itself on. They can be found supporting other W&L sports teams in their free time, bonding through team dinners and get-togethers, and even players-only Zoom meetings during the pandemic to welcome in their freshman class to the volleyball family. 

In the end, regardless of whether or not the Generals hit the court for a makeup season, Berry hopes that she can leave a legacy of buying into the team’s selfless and overwhelmingly positive culture.

“I really hope I can rub off on them the idea of putting in what you can, like giving it all you’ve got,” said Berry. “Just this attitude of team over self and humility and selflessness towards the team, and then just overall positivity.”