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Diggin’ it: Loyola Maryland volleyball’s Katie Forsythe on cusp of setting Patriot League record for all-time digs

As a libero, or defensive specialist, for the Loyola Maryland volleyball team, Katie Forsythe has thrown her body around to keep the ball alive. That, in turn, has led the 5-foot-8 senior to bruise, skin and sprain her hands, arms and legs countless times over the years.

The most unlikely body part she has injured? The big toe on her left foot after diving for a ball at Colgate on Oct. 8.

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“I told the trainer, ‘I don’t know what this is, but it kind of hurts,’” Forsythe said of her toe that had turned purple and was difficult to walk on for the first few days. “She said, ‘Great, Katie. Good job.’ It’s safe to say that I am one of the biggest visitors of the training room.”

That lack of self-regard has played a critical role in Forsythe nearing a Patriot League record. With 1,997 digs, she is just 16 digs shy of overtaking the conference mark of 2,012 set by American University’s Kristen Largay (2016-19).

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Forsythe, who is the NCAA Division I’s active leader in digs-per-set-average at 5.98, could break the record when the Greyhounds (14-5 overall, 6-2 Patriot League) visit Navy (8-10, 4-5) on Friday at 7 p.m. or American (11-10, 5-4) on Saturday at 4 p.m. It is an objective that is wholly supported by Forsythe’s teammates.

“At the end of the day, it is a number, but to our team, it means even more because she has made big strides for our program,” fellow senior libero Corinne Filograna said. “The team has her back, and she has our back. I think we’re all ready to celebrate once she gets it.”

Coach Alija Pittenger said Forsythe is worth the price of admission.

“She’s an athlete,” Pittenger said. “She understands the game, and she can see things coming so early, and she can anticipate plays and things like that. She’s a lot of fun to watch.”

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Forsythe’s skill as a libero is somewhat surprising considering she was utilized primarily as an outside hitter while growing up in Ohio. But after she chose Loyola over Towson in November 2017, Pittenger told her she would be converted to libero, which suited her just fine.

The first sign that the transition would go smoothly occurred Aug. 25, 2018 — in only her fourth college game — when she made 41 digs in a four-set win against Towson. That total shattered the program’s single-game record of 35 digs set by Kara Schiffer in 2012.

“I don’t know what it was in my brain,” Forsythe recalled of that performance. “I just didn’t think. I just played, and I had as much fun as I could because I was just a freshman and I didn’t have any expectations for myself.”

With 1,997 digs in her career, Loyola Maryland senior libero Katie Forsythe needs only 16 digs to pass American University’s Kristen Largay’s Patriot League mark of 2,012.
With 1,997 digs in her career, Loyola Maryland senior libero Katie Forsythe needs only 16 digs to pass American University’s Kristen Largay’s Patriot League mark of 2,012. (Courtesy photo/Loyola Maryland Athletics)

Since then, Forsythe has become one of the more decorated players in school and Patriot League history. She was the first player to be named the Rookie and Libero of the Year since the conference was formed in 1990, broke the school and league single-season records for total digs (753) and digs per set (6.17) in 2019, and joined Lehigh’s Rachel Charles as the league’s only three-time Libero of the Year.

Forsythe, who has made game-winning spikes or pivotal blocks, said nothing compares to digging an opponent’s spike.

“When I dig somebody who thinks she had a super good hit, it’s kind of like an in-your-face moment. ‘You thought that was good? Guess what? It’s not,’” she said. “It is a competition between me and them.”

Forsythe revealed that she emits a “joyful laugh” after making a successful dig. Filograna described it more as a giggle, which doesn’t exasperate opponents as much as Forsythe’s playmaking ability.

“I think there are a lot of teams in the Patriot League that definitely get frustrated because every time they hit the ball to the back, it is dug,” Filograna said. “So I think a lot of teams have had to change their tactics on where they’re going to hit just knowing that she’s going to be there.”

Pittenger credited Forsythe’s ability to dig on her vision and anticipation.

“She definitely sees things before they happen and puts herself in a great spot to go and make plays,” she said. “But the biggest thing about her is just her competitiveness. At the end of games, if we need a rally and we need to keep things going and we need that point, she’s going to make a dig. It’s just the way she operates, and I think it’s something we’ve kind of taken for granted. We just know that the ball is going to come back up and that we don’t have to worry about that. We know that in those crunch-time moments, she’s going to make it happen.”

That same relentless helped explain how Forsythe has never missed a match and only a handful of practices despite some painful injuries. She is currently playing despite a partially torn labrum in her left hip that she compared to a stabbing sensation. Forsythe admitted that she is not a very good patient.

“I will advocate for everybody else to take time off to heal their bodies, but I am the biggest competitor with myself,” she said. “So I will tell myself, ‘No, you can push through it. You’re fine.’”

Pittenger said she and assistant coaches Cinthia Angus and Jacob Rombach have tried to persuade Forsythe to be more judicious about diving for balls, but the advice hasn’t gotten through.

“We were just like, ‘You know, sometimes you’ve just got to let it go, just move onto the next one.’ But she’s just not that kid,” Pittenger said. “She’s all or nothing. She’s going to go after every single ball. We always say in the gym that when you’re playing defense, the ball is going to decide whether you make the play or not, but she’s never going to give up.”

Forsythe, who is studying education and will return for a fifth year to get certified to teach English to non-English-speaking students, is also 46 digs away from passing Brittany Born (2007-10) for the most digs in Greyhounds history. She admitted that she had not considered being in this position.

“I think it would be very cool if I could get that,” she said. “In the past year when I realized that I could, it has definitely been in my sights. So I would say that for a personal reason, it is important. I feel like I’ve worked very hard for this, and accomplishing this would be the icing on the cake.”

LOYOLA MARYLAND@NAVY

Friday, 7 p.m.

Video: ESPN+

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