Just a few weeks into her first year at Vandegrift High School, Delaney Dilfer, a promising volleyball player, turned to her father, Trent, after a practice and revealed her feelings about her new campus and new team.
“I feel like I’ve been here my whole life,” she told her father, a former NFL quarterback whose decision to move his family into the Vandegrift attendance zone wasn’t made lightly.
Trent Dilfer, whose two older daughters both play collegiate volleyball, exhaled a sigh of relief. His friend Phil Dawson, a longtime NFL kicker, has two children, and his family also lives near the Leander school district campus nestled atop what longtime Austinites still refer to as Tumbleweed Hill. It was Dawson who had extolled the virtues of Vandegrift to Trent Dilfer and his wife, Cassandra.
“We were really nervous when we first moved here, but we felt good about the community and the culture at Vandegrift,” he said. “And we knew that Delaney would have to go earn it on the volleyball court. From day one, she had an incredible attitude. After her first practice, she was like, ‘Dad, I got this.’ ”
First-year Vandegrift coach Melissa Southall certainly welcomed a new setter, although Dilfer had never played the position before during a club and prep career that extended back to the sixth grade. Dilfer, a defensive specialist as a freshman at Valley Christian High in San Jose, Calif., last season, quickly solidified a Vipers lineup anchored by seniors Ryan Palmieri and Simone Priebe and her presence allowed Southall to use her preferred 6-2 rotation. The Vipers responded with a school-record 40 victories and won their first district title as a Class 6A squad.
“We had so many components already in place,” Southall said Thursday. “Getting that second setter, I can’t say enough how much Delany helped our team. We exceeded any expectations I had entering the season, and Delaney was a big part of that.”
Delaney Dilfer’s experience during this past semester also exceeded the expectations she held when her family moved from the Golden State, where their roots run deep.
“Coming here was life-changing for me,” she said. “Back in California, I was known as the little sister of (older sisters) Madeline and Tori. Here, no one knew me, and I feel like I really became my own person.”
Despite being the newest Viper, Dilfer delivered more than a team-high 821 assists and 241 digs while splitting setting duties with senior Natalie Duffield; she also brought what Southall called a “tremendous will to win” to the court.
“Her demeanor on the court is huge,” Southall said. “Delaney does everything with a smile, and she’ll do whatever it takes to win, no matter what. And that has to do with how she was raised. You either have that kind of attitude or you don’t.”
Trent Dilfer cites the influence of his two other daughters — both are setters — on Delaney, but he also was quick to praise his youngest daughter’s ability to adapt so fast to a new school and a new hometown.
“Her sisters set such a great example, but Delaney is her own person,” he said. “My wife and I wanted to raise strong, independent leaders, and that’s what Delany is growing into.”
Trent Dilfer may be a Super Bowl-winning quarterback — he started for the Ravens squad who won the 2000 NFL title – and Cassandra may be a former collegiate swimmer at Fresno State, but these days the Dilfer home is a volleyball stronghold. Both of Trent’s sisters played collegiate volleyball; Madeline played at Notre Dame before joining the beach volleyball team at Pepperdine; and Tori plays for TCU.
“In my family, we always talk about playing big,” said the 5-foot-8 Delaney Dilfer, who has been named the American-Statesman’s All-Central Texas newcomer of the year in girls volleyball. “That means playing strong at the net, diving for a ball, going 100 percent, all the time.”
Befitting her role, Dilfer is quick to pass off any praise for her play to her teammates.
“I couldn’t have done anything this year if it wasn’t for those girls, especially the seniors,” she said. “Every time I see one of our seniors in the hallway, I give them a hug. They took me in as a sister and made me feel right at home.”