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Westphal balances parallels in life

Justin Hite/ Sports Editor

As a daughter and an athlete, junior Britany Westphal strives for improvement. Since her arrival on campus as a freshman three years ago, she has faced a special challenge to balance a need for improvement as if she lives in a parallel universe where her athletic ambitions are linked to her hopes for her mother’s recovery from cancer.

File Photo
Junior Britany Westphal is a force on the court, leading the team in kills per game with 3.43. But she has had to deal with her mom’s battle with cancer since her first day at Elon.

The powerful attacker on the Elon volleyball team has done amazing things on the court and has helped the team to an impressive turnaround. However, her motivation to play well goes beyond conference standings or personal statistics. She plays for her mom.

“My drive to play better or my drive to do better in school is for her,” Westphal said. “My freshman year was really hard, and I told her I contemplated quitting and going home. And she said, ‘No never do that, for me.’ She wants me to do my best. Not necessarily for her, but for me.”

As a player, her improvement has been obvious. Her slashing left-side spikes have become a distinctive part of the team’s improved season record, which included a win against powerhouse College of Charleston. Westphal finished sixth in the conference in kills per game at 3.43. Her continued success on the court cannot be debated. As she has improved, so has the team.

“We’ve grown stronger as a team and come together,” Westphal said. “We work together a lot more.”

Westphal’s career at Elon began with the same struggle for good results. It was the day that she arrived on campus, after being signed to an athletic scholarship that the two dramas in her collegiate life converged.

As the Westphals were moving their oldest daughter into her new home on Staley’s second floor, Britany’s mother, Nadine, suffered a break down. Because of a complication in her pain medicine she suddenly could not walk and was stricken with pain. She lay on the floor, unable to move. As Britany watched, her father, Jim, picked up her mom and carried her back into the family car. Her parents were forced to leave their daughter abruptly, by no fault of her own, and a day of anticipation for Britany turned into a day of realization.

“It was hard because they were about to leave me, and it was my first day on my own,” Westphal said. “But I knew they had to get back home.”

On the volleyball court that first year, Britany began her journey as a leader on the Phoenix squad. Unremarkable team results since Westphal joined the team have now give the Phoenix unmatched success. This fall the team finished sixth in the conference and made it to the second round of the conference tournament.

“Now that we are doing better and have a target on our backs,” Westphal said. “We have a drive to show everyone else that we aren’t the underdogs anymore.”

Westphal grew up swimming, playing basketball, soccer and softball, but did not begin her volleyball career until high school.

Prompted by a gym coach, she made, what would turn out to be one of her best decisions and began playing volleyball. She served as captain of her high school team and by the end of her high school days her jersey would be lifted to the rafters, to be worn only by her younger sister, Logan.

“High school volleyball was not very big in northern Virginia,” Westphal said, “It was a really big deal that I was going somewhere to play.”

Looking to play in college, Westphal ran across some luck. Coach Mary Tendler was an assistant at James Madison University, the college that Westphal’s parents had attended, but in 2004 Tendler moved to become the head coach at Elon. In Tendler’s first recruiting class, she selected a girl who was already scouted for the James Madison team. Playing on a club team and hiring a recruiter helped get the word out about Westphal. She has become a semi-legend in her part of Northern Virginia as the first volleyball player to receive a college scholarship and someone who younger volleyball players could emulate.

“Britany is an unstoppable player when she is on and just overpowers the defense on the other side,” Tendler said. “She is very aggressive and an athletic player.”

The team relies on Westphal who has refined her game, and led the team in kills and recording double digits in services aces and blocks for the second consecutive year.

“She is one of our strongest hitters a lot of people look to her as our go-to girl,” senior hitter Emily Downing said. “We can count on Brit to put it away, if we need that point or to get the job done.”

Although she stands 6 feet tall, she is known as a shy and reserved person in her other life as a photography major.

“She’s opened up a lot more,” Downing said. “She used to be shy and now she’s not so shy.”

When asked about what she brings to the team, the modest Westphal slumped down into her chair paused, for approximately a minute then in what could be considered a whisper, responded, “I’m ranked in the conference in kills per game and no one else on the team is.” In an even softer tone and further down into her chair finished, ”Would that be something?”

It is rare that a person of Westphal’s stature comes across as shy, but that is the exact situation.

She has blossomed into a strong player but that day early in her career has changed her mentality. She no longer plays because she is good at it, but for another reason.

“I put it out of my mind and try not to think about that and just concentrate on the game,” Westphal said. “The situation with my mom makes me push harder. It’s kind of a way to get my stress out and release all that pressure.”

Through all of Westphal’s success through her high school and college careers, it is not improvement for her. While she has grown tremendously as a player and a teammate, it is improvement in other areas that she most hopes for. But she still sets all of that aside and just plays.

“When you come in the gym, you try to drop everything going on outside,” Tendler said. “I’m sure when she comes in the doors she’s just thinking about volleyball and trying to make the team better. Usually its just academics or relationships that get in the way, but she has a lot more going on than that.”

Westphal, now reclined in Fireside Lounge with a light fire glowing behind her, sits just after lunch and recalls her mother’s struggle with cancer, which began the summer before Britany’s senior year in high school. Four long years later, Britany still copes, often keeping her thoughts to herself, knowing that she has to stay here at Elon.

“Being here is hard,” Westphal said. “But I know she is in good hands.”

Nadine Westphal, out of work for two years, is currently in a rehabilitation center. Leaving the Westphal house, in Britany’s words, kind of empty. When most college students go home their parents greet them, but in Westphal’s case she must make one more trip to see her mother.

Britany has lived with the pain of her mother’s cancer since 2003.

It has spread from her colon to her mother’s sacrum and liver. The cancer around her sacrum has grown around the spine and into the muscle and must be shrunk before surgery, because of a high paralysis risk. The cancer in her liver is treated by chemotherapy in pill form. While her condition is not terminal, the Westphal family remains unsure. Britany knows that she has to be strong for her mother.

Sitting even further back in her chair, Westphal’s eyes begin to glisten. Among the bustle of the lunch crowd she seems almost in another world, alone with her thoughts. Then that she realizes why she is here.

“She wants what’s best for me,” Westphal said. “So me being down here playing volleyball, doing well in school, makes her happy and keeps her going strong. It’s tough, but I know that she is being taken care of and she is happy for me.”

Contact Justin Hite at or 278-7247.