From their very first conversation, Louisville volleyball head coach Dani Busboom Kelly was completely transparent with Tori Dilfer.
It was New Year’s Day in 2019, and Dilfer had entered the transfer portal after two seasons at Texas Christian University. Busboom Kelly told Dilfer they didn’t need her at Louisville. In fact, Busboom Kelly wasn’t even sure she wanted another setter.
Following Dilfer’s visit to campus, she was told by Busboom Kelly she needed to understand that one of three things would happen if she joined the program: She could become the primary setter, the team could split time between two setters, or she could get beat out for the position.
Her conversations with Busboom Kelly made Dilfer sure Louisville was where she wanted to be, and she did split time with another setter for part of the 2019 season. Before the season was over, however, it was Dilfer’s show.
Two years later, the 32-0 Cardinals are in the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four for the first time in program history, two wins away from becoming the first undefeated national champions since 2009. They would also be the first ACC team and the first team coached by a woman to ever win the national title. Furthermore, no ACC team had held the No. 1 spot in the rankings until Louisville claimed it last month.
— Louisville Volleyball (@UofLVolleyball) December 13, 2021
At the center of it all is Dilfer, a two-time ACC Setter of the Year and All-ACC first-team selection. And she’s driven by her faith in Christ. On her right forearm are the words “dry bones awaken” tattooed in cursive, a reference to Ezekiel 37.
“God wakes up dry bones, and that’s what he did in my life,” Dilfer said in a recent interview with ESPN. “Coming to Louisville was an answer to a prayer.”
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Dilfer, the daughter of former NFL quarterback and Super Bowl champion Trent Dilfer, says she prays before every match as a way to help her remember why she is ultimately playing. Then she ties a green ribbon to her shoelace in honor of her brother, Trevin, who died at the age of 5. Tori was 4 when he passed away, and has never forgotten the role faith played in helping her family cope with the pain.
“Going through that was when I first saw faith lived out and saw God work in some awesome ways,” she told His Huddle last month. “He provided people in my family’s life that not only were there for us, but that pointed us to a comfort so much stronger than anything the world could give us. I saw these people encourage my parents to seek after the Lord like they never had before.”
In her fifth and final season as a collegiate volleyball player, the Los Gatos, California, native has a different appreciation and perspective on her sport.
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“The biggest way my faith impacts how I play is how grateful I’ve become for my sport,” Dilfer said in an interview for the Spring 2020 issue of Sports Spectrum Magazine. “Over the past year, God has really reshaped how I think about my sport and how I use my platform. He’s shown me that my team is my mission field.”
Dilfer’s three years at Louisville have helped her realize how much of an impact she can have by investing in relationships. While she has played a vital role in helping the program reach new heights, she knows her legacy also includes something even more significant.
“God has opened a door with some of my teammates for discipleship and growing together in our faith walks,” she said in the magazine. “My eyes have been opened to the impact these relationships can have on people’s eternities.”
Louisville faces Wisconsin in the first semifinal at 7 p.m. ET on Thursday in Columbus, Ohio. The winner will face either Pittsburgh or Nebraska in the championship match at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday.
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