Even though Abby Hofmeister always was one of the smallest children in her age group while growing up in Powell, she began playing volleyball as a fourth-grader and excelled in the sport as a setter.

Even though Abby Hofmeister always was one of the smallest children in her age group while growing up in Powell, she began playing volleyball as a fourth-grader and excelled in the sport as a setter.

When Hofmeister was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency (GHD) at age 10, she was told by an endocrinologist that she was on pace to grow to only 4 feet, 7 inches and that she should quit playing volleyball and pursue a different sport.

GHD is a disorder that involves the pituitary gland. When the pituitary gland doesn't produce enough growth hormone, growth will be slower than normal.

"I met with my (endocrinologist) at least once every three months and he told me multiple times that I should give up volleyball, and I would cry in the car the whole way home because I love volleyball and I didn't want to quit playing," Hofmeister said. "He told me I should play a sport like tennis where height isn't as important, but I didn't want to hear it."

Instead of giving up on her favorite sport, Hofmeister chose to undergo growth hormone therapy and work harder to improve her volleyball skills.

The recent Watterson High School graduate's work has paid dividends, as she was offered a spot on the Northwestern University women's volleyball team as a preferred walk-on.

"Abby's an inspiration to a lot of people because she has the fight and fire of someone three times her size," said Columbus Volleyball Academy coach Tracy Vondran, who set for the Ohio State women's team from 1989-92. "Abby's a phenomenal team player who will run through a wall for you, and I've literally seen her run into walls and bleachers going for the ball. I've nicknamed her 'Rudy' because she reminds me of the Notre Dame football player who walked on and earned the respect of his teammates. A lot of kids look up to her even though most of them are taller than her."

Over a five-year period, Hofmeister received growth hormone injections six days a week until she reached her full height of 5-2.

In addition to playing three years of varsity volleyball at Watterson and competing for the CVA club national team the past five years, Hofmeister also took private lessons from Vondran and spent countless hours working on her skills on her own.

"When I was told I needed to quit volleyball, it only made me stronger because I worked harder than I ever had before," Hofmeister said. "I was determined that I wasn't going to let my height stop me from doing anything I really wanted to do."

Hofmeister has maintained a sense of humor about her height.

When she made the CVA national team for the first time, she wore a T-shirt that read "Vertically Challenged" while her teammates donned shirts that read "Challenge Vertically."

The following year, Hofmeister's teammates wore T-shirts that read "My friends look up to me" while she wore a shirt that read "I have friends in high places."

"We make fun of her height all the time and Abby's a good sport about it," her mother Marietta Hofmeister said. "We're so proud of her because she's a great example that good things are possible if you work hard.

"A lot of colleges wouldn't even look at her because of her height. Abby would make recruiting videos for herself and send them out to college coaches, and they would come back and recruit her teammates who were 6 feet tall instead of her. But now she's going to be a part of a Division I college team that's full of girls who are a foot taller than her."

Hofmeister also has to be cautious about what she eats and drinks, as she has a severe milk allergy.

"I always have to know the ingredients of everything I eat and I can't eat at buffets or most restaurants because I'll have a reaction if my meal is contaminated in any way," she said. "Even though I'm really careful about what I eat, a couple of times a year I'll accidentally eat something that has an ingredient that I'm allergic to and I'll have a reaction.

"While my club team was competing in a tournament in Indianapolis in March, I had a horrible reaction where my face blew up, my eyes were almost swollen shut, my body was red with hives and I had trouble breathing. It was so bad I had to get a steroid injection to take care of it."

Hofmeister hasn't let her physical setbacks tarnish her work ethic on the volleyball court or in the classroom.

After earning a perfect 800 score on the math portion of the SAT, Hofmeister graduated from Watterson with a 4.1 GPA and was one of the school's valedictorians.

"I think my grades and test scores definitely helped me get this opportunity to play at Northwestern," she said. "When (Northwestern's) coach called me and told me she wanted me to come out for the team, I was in shock because Northwestern was my first choice and I'd been waiting for that moment for so long. I've been dreaming about practicing there for the past year.

"If I can eventually play in varsity matches at Northwestern that would be a dream come true."

Hofmeister already has enrolled in Northwestern's engineering school and is considering picking up a second major in applied mathematics.

"I want to give myself the opportunity to do anything I want after I graduate from college," she said. "Going to medical school is still an option, but I really want to play volleyball in Europe, too. I always aim high. If I didn't shoot for the stars, I definitely wouldn't be where I'm at today."