Success And Growth: How Anna Stevenson Transformed Herself As A Player And Person In Louisville

Transferring into the University of Louisville Volleyball program following the 2018 season, Anna Stevenson wanted to win games and make an NCAA Tournament appearance. What would follow in the next three seasons is something that she never would’ve initially imagined. Through all of the success and even some humility along the way, Stevenson transformed herself both as a player and a person in Louisville.

“I wanted to come to win games,” Stevenson admitted. “I wanted to go to a program that could win and was competitive. A conference championship was probably the highest thing in my mind at that point. I knew I wanted to play in the NCAA tournament; even if we were to play and lose in the first round, that was okay in my mind. But then in my first year at Louisville, we go to the Elite Eight after knocking off Texas. So, I don’t think I had any clue how special it could be, but after the 2019 season, I knew we had something special here.”

Stevenson joined the Cardinal program after playing her first two seasons at Auburn, where she saw significant playing time. It was during the 2019 season that the 6-foot-2 middle blocker began to transform her game in more ways than one.

“Dani (Busboom Kelly) made me tougher,” Stevenson explained. “Dan Meske made me a much less-selfish player. I’m very driven and goal-oriented, and I remember an instance in which when we beat Cincinnati in a great game. I wasn’t that excited after the game and he called me up to his seat on the bus and said, ‘you know, we just beat a team with a future Olympian (Jordan Thompson) on it, but by the look on your face, you’re not happy about this at all. The team is always more important than the individual.’ I think that my play improved significantly, once I stopped caring so much about myself and rather thought about what I can pour into the team, because I’m sure it does take a lot of pressure off of you when you’re not just thinking about yourself.”

An Elite Eight finish in 2019 was followed by a COVID-shortened season capped off by a second-round loss in the NCAA Tournament to Washington. Stevenson opted to use the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA, and the decision was an easy one.

“I came back because I love volleyball, and I was not ready to be done,” Stevenson recalled. “College is the best ever; just Louisville athletics in particular is really special and obviously volleyball here is really good. They care a lot about the program, but it’s just so special how we were treated here. Not to mention, the the staff was just fantastic. I couldn’t pass up a fifth year of college volleyball. I don’t think anyone who really loves it could say no.”

Star setter Tori Dilfer also deciding to come back for another season was huge for the Cardinals as well. The duo’s chemistry on the court pales in comparison to the last friendship created off of it.

“I actually stayed with Tori in her house when I came on my unofficial visit to Louisville,” Stevenson recalled. “When I arrived, we had a lot of similarities from both transferring, desiring to be great volleyball players, and our faith. We lived together my entire first year and that was really special. Since then, we’ve just been super close; while we may not talk every day, when we do, it’s like we saw each other the other day!”

The Cardinals scorched the earth for three months beginning in August of this past year, finishing the regular season with a perfect 28-0 record. Louisville won four more to secure a Final Four spot before losing a heartbreaking match to the eventual-champion Wisconsin Badgers. As Dilfer mentioned in a previous interview, the team played an extremely competitive match that they shouldn’t regret at all. It felt just like any other match for Stevenson.

“The funny thing was that during the game, it just felt like any other competitive game,” Stevenson said. “But then I went back and watched it and was like ‘holy crap that really was an amazing game of volleyball.’ After the game ended, and I was seeing comments on videos, and people were saying, ‘wow, this was so competitive; this should have been the national championship,’ etc. Looking back, I was really proud of it.”

Stevenson was blown away from the fanbase’s support all season long; attendance numbers were arguably the highest they had ever been with multiple sellouts at L&N Federal Credit Union Arena.

“I thought the crowds were huge in 2019, because I never played in front of people who supported volleyball like that,” Stevenson said. “COVID soon came and I kind of forgot what it was like; I think everyone did. This year when we were able to play in front of everyone, it was crazy. It was like L&N arena wasn’t even big enough. I’ve said before that we even had a hard time getting our friends or family in the games, because you have a pass list for four tickets. However, our director of player operations would text us before matches and tell us that we needed to hurry up and submit our ticket lists because the matches were selling out quickly.”

Playing in historic Freedom Hall behind thousands of rowdy fans was the cherry on top. Despite not having known much about the arena prior, Stevenson recalled listening to stories told by multimedia content producer Assad Ali about his father’s fights that took place there (Muhammad Ali).

Other aspects of fandom that amazed Stevenson was the local youth’s involvement and the support from people back home. “It was really fun to have people ask about our games wherever we went. Seeing all of the KIVA girls come and support and then want pictures was great. But the coolest part to me was when I got home for Christmas break, and my grandmother’s friends were saying, ‘we paid for an ESPN account so we can watch your games. We don’t know a thing about volleyball, but we watched all your games.’ Just the people that tuned in for the first time ever because of this team was cool to me, the most random people from home who had no reason to watch a volleyball game, but our team was enough of a reason,” she explained.

The impact that the Louisville community had on her collegiate career both on and off the court was extraordinary. Her gratitude for the fanbase and the city cannot be understated.

“Thank you for giving me the best college experience ever,” Stevenson said. “It was beyond anything I could have picked or dreamed for myself. Just the support of the community and then obviously local athletics as a whole, like from academic to people in fundraising. Everyone who worked at Louisville (athletic department and academic advisors) were constantly texting or sending me emails about tickets.The support was insane and everything was just beyond what I could have ever picked for myself.”

The community also had a significant impact on her religious beliefs, as she got involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes soon after coming to the Derby City.

“I would say that the community I found was the biggest finger pointing back to God  having me going to Louisville,” Stevenson explained. “In high school and middle school, my church at home was fantastic. I had a great leader and a great woman to look up to in Suzanne Tolbert. But as far as college, it was hard to find a church and then transferring, I saw that FCA at Louisville was a huge thing. Tammy Morgan and Chris Morgan have had such an impact on me; I’m currently doing a study with Tammy right now despite being eight hours apart in terms of time zone. Even though I’m not an athlete at Louisville anymore, she still cares enough about me to keep doing this and make sure I’m growing. To have such a significant number of girls on our team, to also be Christians, to also be people to talk about stuff like that with and even the girls that aren’t that are fantastic people too, is incredible. Sometimes at practice, I would just catch myself looking around in awe of the fantastic people God can create because I don’t think I’ve ever loved a group that much. Freshman Cara Cresse and I could tear up randomly over the littlest things and sometimes I would literally want to tear up especially at the end just thinking about my time with them coming to a close.”

Stevenson ends her collegiate career at Louisville with 678 kills and 369 blocks. The 2021 AVCA First-Team All-American is currently in Turkey playing professionally for Aydın Büyükşehir Belediyespor, a club in the Turkish Women’s Volleyball League. She is engaged to current Louisville baseball player Duncan Hall and one day looks to coach volleyball.

Stevenson’s sights are currently set on working towards competing for a spot on the United States National Volleyball team for the 2024 Paris Olympics. From Laurens (South Carolina), to Auburn, to Louisville, and now in Europe, volleyball has taken her many different places. It is unknown where her career will continue to take her, but one thing is for certain: people in Louisville will be her biggest fans regardless. One day, she’ll be playing on the world’s biggest stage, bringing that Louisville name in front of the world. Players come and go, but legends never leave.

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