Favorite athlete: Chase Utley
Favorite team: Philadelphia Eagles
Favorite memory competing in sports: Being a part of setting Abington volleyball’s record for wins my sophomore year and breaking it my senior year.
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: My teammate went to the line to call a ball out of bounds, and the ball hit her in the face!
Music on mobile device: Anything by The Foo Fighters, The Killers, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Future plans: Go to college and study medicine.
Words to live: “Seize the day!”
One goal before turning 30: Travel to all 50 states.
One thing people don’t know about me: I played as a DS my whole volleyball career until last school season.
By Mary Jane Souder
Anna Bantner might not be household word to fans of Abington volleyball. She should be.
Listening to coach Dan Marsh tell it, the senior setter is the engine that has driven the Ghosts to new heights – the top of the SOL Continental Conference and a share of the program’s first title.
“She totally is (the engine) because she’s making all the decisions on the floor – who gets the ball and when they get the ball,” Marsh said. “In volleyball, it’s all in the pass. If you’re getting good passes, then you can get the ball to your best players, but when you’re not getting good passes, then you have to find ways to get them the ball. She’s been able to do that.
“Hannah Dalton is our workhorse, and Anna will get Hannah the ball all over the court. Whether it’s a platform set or a regular set, she’ll find a way to get Hannah the ball.”
But that’s just the beginning of Bantner’s contributions. When Marsh took over the program this year, he identified mental toughness as the biggest hurdle the team needed to overcome.
“I think in the past they were used to losing, so they would get down and get frustrated and quit on each other and say, ‘We don’t have a chance,’” Marsh said. “Hannah is one of those kids that keeps the kids going – ‘Hey, we can do this.’”
No one epitomizes that ‘we can do this’ attitude more than Bantner, who was instrumental in Marsh taking over the program after Jae Lee stepped down. The senior captain is highly competitive and wanted the Ghosts to be pushed.
“With our atmosphere last year, we were down in a couple of games we could have lost, but (Marsh) always just instills this confidence in us to make sure we know that we’re good enough, we’ve been working hard since June and we can win,” Bantner said. “He just gives us that confidence and we don’t give up.”
The fact that Marsh has been a perfect fit doesn’t surprise Bantner.
“He was the coach in middle school,” she said. “It’s such a young age level to recognize a good coach, but I’ve always known that he was an awesome coach.
“I always said – if Jae steps down or something happens because sometimes he talked about one of my years being his last year, I told Marsh he should come back and he should coach us because there’s so much talent. I just thought he would be the perfect coach for us in order to do well and go to the playoffs and stuff, and it’s worked so far.”
That’s an understatement. The Ghosts have set a program record for wins in a season, and they hope they’re far from finished.
The progression that led Marsh – the girls’ varsity basketball coach for the past 12 years – to the helm is an interesting one.
“Anna is the one who first approached me about coaching them,” the Ghosts’ coach said. “She had always joked with me, and this time she was serious.
“She said that Jae wasn’t coming back. I had coached all of the seniors in eighth grade except for Grace Whitney, and I said, ‘Get all your seniors together and we’ll sit down and we’ll talk about it.’ I asked her, ‘What do you want in a coach?’ She said, ‘Push us.’”
A meeting at Panera’s of the seniors with Marsh was arranged.
“He sat us all down and said, ‘First of all, I want to hear your goals for the season,’ and all six of the seniors said, ‘We want to be successful, we want to win. We have the talent, we have the motivation,’” Bantner said. “I think I said, ‘We want to get the most wins. We want to win a championship.’
“He paused for a couple of seconds and was like, ‘I think you guys can do it.’ We had to be able to adjust to him being our coach because he was going to work us a lot harder – we’re going to have two-a-days in the summer, we're going to have practice six days a week, and it’s not going to be an easy transition, but if we transition and we listen to him and we trust him, then it’s going to work.”
“Basically, they wanted to be pushed,” Marsh said. “That’s what drew me to those seniors.”
It turned out to be a perfect fit. The Ghosts wrapped up the regular season with a 17-1 record.
“The thing that makes him the best is he makes sure the practices are on point and we’re not messing around and every practice we’re getting better for our next game,” Bantner said. “Even though we’re doing well, he always reminds us – you can appreciate your last win, but you need to play as hard as you can for the next game and the next game.”
Marsh has instilled a confidence that had been lacking. When the team falls behind in a match, there’s no panic. That confidence has its roots in the fact that the Ghosts end every practice working on how to respond to being down.
“That just helps so much because we’ve been in situations in important games where we’ve been down,” Bantner said. “Marsh would call a timeout and say, ‘Guys, look, we’ve practiced this, and you guys always come back,’ so we literally just do the exact thing that he tells us to do in practice in games.”
No one, according to Marsh, is more crucial to keeping the team positive than Bantner.
“She doesn’t let the kids get frustrated,” he said. “She pulls them together and says, ‘Hey, we can do this, we’re fine. We’ve done it before, we do it every day.’ She not only leads by example, but she also leads vocally.
“She’s very competitive but also very supportive of her teammates. She really keeps this team together with her fantastic attitude.”
Bantner was born to be a leader, possessing a confidence that can’t be taught.
“She’s super confident in herself, and she doesn’t care what other people think and say, and the other kids feed off of that,” Marsh said of his senior captain. “She’s fiery and feisty. She’s not timid, and she’ll tell you what she thinks.
“She’s going to be successful in whatever she does just because of the way she carries herself. I always like a player on the floor who can give me a player’s perspective. Anna’s not afraid to do that. If she thinks we’re doing something wrong, she’ll tell me. However she was raised, she’s just comfortable.”
Bantner has been playing volleyball since – at the encouragement of close friend Aine Dougherty – she attended a clinic at the Glenside Youth Athletic Club.
“At that clinic, I just fell in love with it,” she said. “Everything was appealing. I loved all the technical parts of playing, I loved passing.
“Ever since then, I went every week and I got better.”
Bantner competes on the club circuit, starting off at a smaller club and then moving to GPS Crush. Last year, she moved to a new club – TNT - that Chuck Dougherty, the father of her friend who got her involved in volleyball, started.
A starter since she was a freshman, Bantner may continue playing volleyball at club level next year, but she is looking to attend a large school. Boston University and the University of Pittsburgh are her top two choices. She plans to major in biology with her sights set on a career as a physician’s assistant or pursuing her doctorate.
“I’ve always been really good at science, and I find it a lot more interesting than the other subjects,” she said. “My mom is the youngest of eight, so she has a lot of older brothers and sisters, and they’re all somewhat in the science field.
“A couple of my aunts are nurses and doctors, and I’ve grown up talking to them about science, so it’s interesting to me.”
An excellent student who is in the top six percent of her senior class, Banter boasts a 4.38 GPA and is taking a full courseload of AP classes – AP Statistics, AP Psychology, AP Biology and AP Literature.
“It’s pretty hard, but they’re all pretty interesting,” she said.
Volleyball is just one small piece of Bantner’s life. She is a captain for Mini-thon, which raises money for pediatric cancer. She also is the head of the senior superlatives for the yearbook and is part of Abington’s Buddies program, which works with special needs students. Away from school, she coaches a TNT team of 12-13 year-olds and admits she could see herself coaching someday.
For now, she’s enjoying every minute of a magical senior season.
“I keep telling myself – this is the season to remember,” Bantner said. “This is my last season. I have to make the most that I can out of it.
“I think that’s why I was so urgent on getting Marsh to coach because I know he’s the missing piece to make this such a perfect and successful season because it’s my last one. This season has been amazing. It’s literally everything I wanted in my senior year.
“All our hard work is paying off, and it’s so rewarding because we’ve worked so hard, we’ve worked for so long, and it’s just so much fun.”