NEW CARLISLE — New Prairie outside hitter Elise Swistek had no idea it was coming.
When coach Jordan Staus approached the junior a week ago to congratulate her on receiving Most Valuable Player honors in the Northern Indiana Conference, Swistek was excited, but confused.
"I had no idea it was really even possible for me to get the award this year," Swistek said. "Usually it's always a senior that wins it. So coming into the season, being the conference MVP wasn't even on my radar."
Swistek's most recent personal accolade draws eerie similarities to a player two years older than her — someone she's looked up to in the northern Indiana area. Current Valparaiso University freshman and Mishawaka Marian alum Bella Ravotto won the conference MVP award in her senior season in 2018. Not only were both voted as the NIC's best volleyball players, but they also are members of an elite 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs club — a feat that's rarely accomplished in high school.
Swistek is currently committed to play volleyball at Valparaiso, and if everything goes as planned, will join Ravotto on the court for the Crusaders' 2021 season. Following Ravotto's footsteps is crazy for Swistek to think about, and taking home conference MVP honors a school year before Ravotto did is even crazier.
"Bella didn't even win it until her senior year, so I didn't think it was possible for me to win it this year," Swistek said. "She's always been a player that I looked up to. Like, she's super good. She can jump in the air really high, she hits it really hard. I was thinking since she got it as a senior, then that's probably when I would get it."
While Swistek and her mom alike were caught a bit off-guard with the news, Staus wasn't at all. She knows the type of player Swistek is and knew she was far-and-away the NIC's best volleyball player this year.
"I feel like a lot of people think it's a senior award for some reason," Staus said. "But to me, it's like, if we're going to put her up against somebody else in the state who wins their conference MVP, it should be the best player, period. And Elise is, obviously, the best player in the conference. From watching each of the games in the conference this year, she stands out as a hitter, as a passer, as a leader on the court. I kind of thought most people would vote for her."
Personal accolades such as this most recent one mean a lot to Swistek, but during the high school season, they're low on her list of priorities. Club volleyball with the Dunes Volleyball Club is where she knows she has to shine more individually. And while her play is crucial to New Prairie's success on the court, Swistek would rather win games than receive any amount of awards.
It's a mindset that all of the Cougars share, and it starts with their best player in Swistek. She puts forth a team-first mindset that is incredibly crucial right now in the midst of postseason play. Swistek will be back in action in the Class 3A regional semifinal at about noon against Kankakee Valley at Hanover Central Saturday. The regional final will take place at 7 p.m.