Larkin senior Olivia Kofie made many fans during her four-year varsity volleyball career, the most fervent of which are a group of five and six year olds living in an orphanage half a world away.
Kofie traveled last December to Accra, Ghana, with her father, Moses Kofie. He emigrated from Ghana to Elgin in 1987, once Olivia's grandfather had become financially stable enough in the Elgin area to send for him.
Moses eventually studied and played soccer on scholarship at Judson College, now Judson University. That's where he met Joy, Olivia's mother.
Moses Kofie returned to Ghana with Olivia as part of a 16-person, two-week mission through the Two Pennies Ministry, which is affiliated with the First Baptist Church of Elgin. The group included nurses, teachers, coaches and construction workers. They constructed a new church and held medical clinics for the orphans and area widowed mothers. Moses taught soccer lessons in the afternoon heat.
Olivia, who will choose between nursing and business when she begins her studies on an athletic scholarship at Western Michigan next fall, assisted with the nursing aspect of the mission. She took temperatures and checked blood pressure. All the while she gravitated toward the children and vice versa.
"She really likes kids," Moses said of his daughter. "She gets so excited when she sees a little kid or when she's at the nursery. She has a lot of energy so she would play with them all day long."
Games of tag and hide-and-seek eventually gave way to story time. Though few of the children spoke English, they followed along as Olivia read Bible stories or stories from picture books. The kids got the gist.
Despite the language barrier, the children soon realized the 6-foot-1, then-16-year-old girl from Elgin cared about them. So they cared right back. When the missionary group from Two Pennies arrived each morning, the children began chanting "Olivia! Olivia! Olivia!" Kofie was humbled.
"I think it made me a better person," she said of the experience. "It's amazing the difference the smallest thing can make. Even a small whistle or a tiny toy from a McDonald's happy meal was huge for them because they don't have very much. It puts things in perspective."
Kofie put her experience working with younger people to good work once she returned to the volleyball court this fall. Larkin coach Henry Graack said he sensed a difference in Kofie, who became a mentor to a sophomore middle hitter and a pair of freshmen on the roster, one of whom was her younger sister, Natalie.
"She talked with the younger players more than anybody on the team," Graack said. "We moved up a sophomore to play middle and Olivia just took her under her wing. Olivia would pull her aside like a coach and give her tips. She got good enough that we felt OK moving Olivia to a spot we needed more help with."
Normally a middle hitter -- the position at which she started for Club Fusion's back-to-back national championship teams the last two years -- Kofie moved outside this season and terrorized opponents for two months with her powerful swings and intuitive tips. She finished with 305 kills despite facing a double block nearly every time she hit. Those 305 kills are the highest total for a Larkin hitter since Ruth Boscaljon hammered 369 kills in 2005.
Kofie also led her team with a career-high 57 aces to go with 159 serves received and 35 blocks. Demonstrating her all-around ability, she notched 196 digs, one of the highest totals on a team that won 17 matches with her but "would have won maybe 5 or 6 matches without her," according to Graack.
For her efforts as a team leader on the court and off, Larkin senior Olivia Kofie has been named the honorary captain of the 2013 Daily Herald All-Area girls volleyball team, Fox Valley.
"We were definitely planning on winning conference but that didn't happen," Kofie said. "Other than that I thought we did better than expected. I enjoyed it. It was definitely a big change playing outside hitter. It was more fun, more leisurely. I didn't have to run back and forth and block every ball. I would help out with a block and then hit."
Kofie played for a Larkin squad that boasted just one other high-level club volleyball player, her Fusion teammate Brianna Stewart, who dealt with knee tendinitis all season. Kofie often made the best of an inconsistent Larkin passing game to nevertheless crack the 300-kill plateau.
However, the areas in which Kofie improved most as a senior were serve receive and passing, according to her coach.
"Olivia got a lot of touches (as a junior), but she didn't keep the ball in play all the time," Graack said. "If a ball came at her hard, it would often rocket out of bounds. This year she is leaps and bounds better. In our last few games I can't even think of any digging errors she had, whereas, even at the beginning of the season she might have 2 or 3 in a match. She has gotten much better at it as the season has gone on."
"That's important because I don't want to be just a front-row player," Kofire said. "It's good to be able to support everybody from the back row with a good pass. I just hope our freshmen can see that they can do it, too. I started off as an eighth grader who passed free balls over the net and it just advanced."
And so advances the volleyball career of Olivia Kofie, a player who keeps adding fans worldwide one day at a time.