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FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Birch came back better than ever | Prep Sports

The seventh annual Best of Prep Sports Female Athlete of the Year came back better than ever in her senior year.

Northwood Academy’s Alayah Birch guided the Chargers to SCISA Class 4A state championship games in volleyball and basketball in 2023-24 and was showered with individual accolades after both seasons.

That’s quite the contrast to her junior year when Birch was relegated to being her teammates’ biggest fan and a coach on the bench. Three games into the volleyball season as a junior, Birch tore her anterior cruciate ligament.

Northwood Academy girls basketball coach Ginnell Curtis, who doubles as Birch’s mother, said the bad news hit her daughter like a ton of bricks.

“It was tough,” Curtis said. “I was there when it happened and knew there was a long road ahead. The surgery, the rehab, it was really hard. She missed volleyball and basketball, and she had to sit there and watch her teammates compete. She had a positive attitude. We’ve got pictures of her jumping on one leg. I think back when I played, I don’t know if I could have been so outwardly joyful. She leaned on God and kept her faith. She didn’t understand why it happened, but her goal was to come back better.”

Birch garnered region player of the year and all-state honors in both sports. In volleyball, she was team captain and dominated around the net as the Chargers finished state runner-ups and won 30 games.

“She has been with me for a long time,” Northwood coach Danielle Newman said during the season. “She has a super high volleyball IQ. She talks non stop. It takes just one person to make a big difference and that’s Alayah.”

On the hardwood, Birch led the Chargers with 19.4 points per game, 12.1 rebounds per game, 4.1 assists per game, 3.9 steals per game and 0.9 blocks per game. Northwood compiled an impressive 26-3 mark and finished as state runner-up by a mere two points.

Birch will play a sport a college but had not finalized her decision before press time of this special section.

Birch was also honored with the female basketball player of the year award as a sophomore at the fifth annual Best of Prep Sports award.