Elizabeth Wuerstle didn't start playing volleyball until the seventh grade, when a friend's mother invited her to try out for a club team.
"I loved it from the start," Wuerstle said. "I loved having the opportunity to learn so much and being challenged."
Wuerstle was a quick learner, leading her Tower Hill School team to the Delaware state high school semifinals and earning all-state honors during her senior season. Since arriving at Johns Hopkins University in the fall of 2014, Wuerstle has lifted the Blue Jays' women's volleyball team to greater heights.
The outside hitter's veteran leadership has guided the 2017 Blue Jays to a school record-tying 16 consecutive victories and 17-2 mark. Johns Hopkins tightened its hold on first place in the Centennial Conference with a 3-1 victory Oct. 11 at local rival McDaniel. The Blue Jays, 6-0 in the Centennial Conference, extended their league winning streak to 18 games over a two-year period and remained one game ahead of second-place Franklin and Marshall for the regular-season title and top seed in the Centennial tournament.
An honorable mention All-America selection by the American Volleyball Coaches Association last fall, Wuerstle has been a driving force behind the first national ranking in the history of the Johns Hopkins program. The Blue Jays are the No. 18 team in the Oct. 10 AVCA Division III poll, one spot behind upcoming opponent Juniata.
Head coach Tim Cole's Blue Jays will try to break the consecutive wins record held by the 2012 and 2017 teams when Johns Hopkins hosts Juniata at Goldfarb Gym Oct. 13. Following an Oct. 14 match at Centennial opponent Swarthmore, the Blue Jays will travel to No. 25 Stevenson Oct. 19.
"It's nice to be up there [in the rankings], but we judge ourselves based on how we see ourselves," said Wuerstle, who was named the Centennial Conference's Player of the Week Oct. 9. "One thing that we've become good at is focusing on our process. We've gotten stronger, more athletic, and more physical, and we expect to improve each season."
Wuerstle earned a starting role early in her freshman year and led the Blue Jays in kills and service aces during the 2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons. As a freshman, she was named to the All-Centennial Conference second team and earned first-team honors during her sophomore and junior campaigns.
During her junior season, Wuerstle became Johns Hopkins' sixth AVCA All-American and the first since Jasmine Warmington in 2012. She also earned the Centennial Conference's Player of the Year accolade, as Johns Hopkins finished with a 20-9 record, won the league title, and earned an NCAA Tournament win for the first time in school history.
"We're really proud that we went further than any Hopkins team," said the 5-foot-11 Wuerstle, a native of Kennett Square, Pa., who is double majoring in international studies and economics. "But there's so much more for us to do. We want it all this year."
Wuerstle's consistency has been a hallmark of the current team, which only losses were 3-1 decisions to No. 4 Emory and top-ranked Wittenberg during the season's opening weekend. Wuerstle leads the team with 74 service aces and is third with 171 kills behind sophomore Louisa Kishton and freshman Simone Bliss.
Wuerstle is closing in on the school record for service aces. She will enter the Juniata match with 235 aces, just shy of the school standard of 246 set by Chrissy Horan from 1996-1999. Wuerstle is sixth all-time at Johns Hopkins with 1,063 career kills.
"There isn't an area where she hasn't grown dramatically," said Cole, now in his fifth season as the Blue Jays' coach. "She plays well in all six rotations and is through the roof with her efficiency. Liz has increased her vertical jump by 6 inches since her freshman year, which is pretty significant. She can hit the ball from anywhere to anywhere, and in the past year she's also become a very effective blocker. She's a complete player now."
Cole knows the value of Wuerstle's leadership and unselfishness, especially on a team with eight underclassmen on its 13-player roster.
"Her contagious enthusiasm has been a key for us," said Cole, who was the Centennial Conference's Coach of the Year in 2016. "She always puts everyone before herself, and she's always more concerned about the overall performance of the team. She's a Hall of Fame kid."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Hopkins Athletics