Abby Vander Wal, 16, a student at Timothy Christian Schools in Elmhurst, Ill., and member of Elmhurst Christian Reformed Church, was named Most Valuable Player of the 2023 International Volleyball Federation’s Girls’ Under-19 Volleyball World Championship after her team won the gold against Turkey on Aug. 11.
Vander Wal, who’s been playing volleyball for nine years, was selected for the U19 national team in March after being part of the national team development program for two years. She plays outside hitter on the team, and first competed in May at the Pan Am Cup hosted in Ponce, Puerto Rico. The U.S. won gold there before heading to the August world championships in Croatia and Hungary.
Receiving the MVP designation is a significant achievement in a tournament held only every two years, with 24 teams qualifying to participate and 12 players per team. Earning gold meant wins against Korea, Serbia, Mexico, Poland, Japan, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Italy and finally Turkey, said Vander Wal’s mom, Kristi Vander Wal.
After the U19 world championships, Vander Wal also competed for Team USA in the Under-21 world championships in Mexico. The U.S. finished sixth and China took home gold in that tournament held Aug. 17-26.
Kristi Vander Wal said she was able to travel with her daughter for the Pan Am Cup in Puerto Rico, but not for either of the world championships. “It was very hard and nerve wracking not to be there in person,” she said, though she was thankful to be able to watch a broadcast of the games and that there were parents of other girls Abby knows well on the trip. “It was an amazing experience for her and she is so grateful God gave her the ability to play volleyball and provided these opportunities for her,” Kristi said.
Abby Vander Wal said being named MVP after already feeling “so blessed to be able to have the opportunity to represent our country … was a surreal and overwhelming moment, one I’ll never forget.”
Vander Wal is back to school at Timothy Christian, expecting to graduate in 2025. She participates in the youth group at Elmhurst CRC where her parents and both sets of grandparents are also members.