Bucks County Herald

Super Steph

Pennridge’s Judkins settles in

DON LEYPOLDT



Pennridge’s Steph Judkins made an immediate impact at Cabrini University in Radnor, where she was honored as the 2017 Division III AVCA Freshman of the Year. Her 434 kills led the Cavaliers.

Freshman Steph Judkins discussed how she chose Cabrini. How she “felt at home.”

How it was important to be close to her family because of some life situations. How “my mom and dad came to every single one of my games this year,” she reflected, “and it was great to have that support.”

Judkins said all of this in a soft-spoken, almost shy voice. It was not the voice of a killer.

Don’t kid yourself. Steph Judkins is a killer. A nationally honored killer.

“She does not shy away from the best competition on the other side of the net,” Cabrini head coach Eric Schaefer said. “She is very into competing and succeeding.”

Succeed she did. The former Pennridge star led the Colonial States Athletic
Conference (CSAC) with 434 kills, the second-highest total in Cabrini’s single-season history. She ranked 40th in all of Division III in kills.

Judkins capped a superlative 2017 in mid-November by being named the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Freshman of the Year and a third-team AVCA all-American.

Schaefer credited “her knowledge of the game and her athleticism. She is able to adjust to many plays. She can sense where the weaknesses are on the other side and she knows where to put the ball.”

Judkins won so many conference and regional honors – CSAC Player and Rookie of the Year, five CSAC Players of the Week – that she may hand them out to trick-or-treaters next Halloween.

“When we set her the ball, we know we are most likely getting points out of that possession,” Schaefer continued.

The rookie recorded 40 service aces and her 310 digs were third best on Cabrini. The Cavaliers went 11-0 in conference and claimed their fifth-straight CSAC title.

Schaefer coached Judkins on her East Coast Power club team.

“She knew what kind of program I ran, so she really didn’t miss a beat from club ball to college,” Schaefer relayed. “She had opportunities to go to a higher level and we’re honored that she chose Cabrini.”

Cabrini finished 29-7, tying the school’s single-season win mark, and carries a 59-game conference winning streak into 2018.

“When the girls found out I was coming, they were really excited and I think that is what made me comfortable,” Judkins explained. “They were excited to see how I would help them. That was my goal: I wanted to help them as much as possible continue their legacy here and help them get to the NCAA tournament.”

The season’s turning point occurred on Sept. 9 against Muhlenberg. A loss the night before dropped Cabrini to 3-3. The Cavaliers swept the 6-1 Mules in three sets and started a 26-3 run.

“That was the time where we all looked at each other and went, ‘We wouldn’t want to have any other girls on this court.’ We meshed really well,” Judkins described.

Cabrini advanced to the first round of the NCAA tournament, falling to host and 25th-ranked Otterbein in front of 1,100 people. Judkins had seven kills and two blocks.
The Cavaliers showed well despite some key injuries.

“Otterbein was a great team and I feel like we held our own for what we had,” Judkins offered. “And I feel like that is going to make us a stronger team for years to come.”

“She had a calf strain and for the last three weeks of the season, she was battling through that,” Schaefer added. “In some of the games, I feel like if she was 100 percent, she would have had even better matches.”

The 6’0” outside hitter did not sneak up on anyone. Judkins was a two-time all-state honoree at Pennridge and she was the first lady Ram to record 1,000 kills. But college is always an adjustment even for people with gaudy prep resumes.

“This year at Cabrini was more of a time to reboot,” Judkins mused. “You have to gain your spot back. At Pennridge my freshman year, I had to gain my spot and by the end of my senior year, I was the captain and the leader. Now at a new school, you have upperclassmen who have obviously been there for four years.

“This year, I had to work my butt off to play, to try and become a leader again because coming into Cabrini, I was very shy. I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes.

Cabrini was very welcoming. I feel like I didn’t just gain new friends,” she concluded, “but I became part of a family here.”

“More than anything,” Schaefer noted, “her confidence is the one thing that strengthened the most.”

Judkins will assist Schaefer in coaching for East Coast Power this offseason.

“I’ll work hard, stay in shape and become more prepared to be a leader now that I’m not a freshman,” Judkins predicted. “I’ll be older and have incoming freshmen to help make feel welcome. I’ll help the team again become successful.”

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