Buford's Ashley Sturzoiu had 22 kills, 11 digs and three aces in Georgia's 7A state title match to earn JWS Player of the Week honors. (Photo courtesy of Lily McGregor Photography)

On the way home from Georgia’s Class 7A volleyball state championship, the Buford Wolves were silent. They had just become three-time state champions, yet a quiet reflective spirit enveloped the bus.

In five sets, Buford defeated Lambert 3-2 (22-25, 25-18, 25-15, 23-25, 19-17), and it was no easy feat. They dropped the first and fourth set, setting up a dramatic final set.

Even as pressure mounted, senior outside hitter Ashley Sturzoiu kept her composure, scoring the match-winning point from the back row. While leading the Wolves to victory, she recorded 22 kills, 11 digs and three aces, earning JWS Player of the Week honors along the way.

“It was 18-17 for us, and that one point was a great representation of the entire game,” Sturzoiu said. “We really fought for it, and I had the opportunity to get the game-winning point, gave it my all and scored.”

This season, the 6-foot senior led the team in six categories: kills (487), kills per set (4.4), digs (302), digs per set (2.7), receptions (374) and aces (71).

“She’s very confident in her ability,” coach Christina Lecoeuvre said. “Just watching her, I’m thinking of her being able to rally her teammates and give them constructive criticism. She’s not afraid to help critique little things in the middle of the game that has helped us win. It’s not necessarily the physical things, but the intangible stuff.”

Volleyball caught Sturzoiu’s eye at a young age. She remembers watching her parents play in a park nearby. At age 9, she begged them to let her play, and she was persistent.

“Eventually, my dad was like ‘OK, you wanna play so bad. I’ll teach you,’” she said.

So they signed her up for volleyball lessons at a local recreation center. And from there, her love for volleyball exploded. Even as a young player, those around her knew she was destined for greatness. The center’s director told Sturzoiu’s mother to “call him back when her daughter makes it big.”

“My mom was like, ‘You just want my money, but thank you,’” Sturzoiu said with a laugh.

At age 13, Sturzoiu discovered her secret weapon on the court — goggles. After breaking her glasses in a tournament, she went into an optical store where she found Oakley sunglasses.They were for outdoor sports, which gave Sturzoiu an idea. Instead of using the traditional tint, she asked to make them with clear lenses. They didn’t just help her eyes on the court. They helped shape her persona as a volleyball player, and now she’s known as “Goggles.”

“A lot of it is part of her swag,” Lecoeuvre said. “She’s a standout player in general, and I think at a young age, she said, ‘I’m just going to ride these goggles out. I’m going to embrace it.’”

On Wednesday, in front of the school, Sturzoiu made her college decision official when she signed her National Letter of Intent to play for Mississippi State, and in January, she will begin her career as a Bulldog. She’s graduating early in part to acclimate to life as a Division I student-athlete.

“I think going early gives you a buffer zone to take your time to, A, get prepared and, B, just living in college, getting used to being there and learning how to manage your time,” Sturzoiu said.

In the meantime, she’s soaking up the little time she has left with her classmates and teammates. She’ll leave behind quite the legacy at Buford. She recorded 1,027 career digs and 1,368 kills and is a three-time state champion and a four-time all-state, all-region and all-county player.

“It’s obviously an end. It’s sad. I’m going to have to make new friends, but in terms of volleyball, this is just kickstarting the rest of my career.” Sturzoiu said.

Nika Anschuetz is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @nlanschuetz.