Taylor Leath may not be on the court this fall like she would prefer, but that did not hamper her finding her destination for the next level.
She is ready to wear Carolina Blue.
The State College junior, who has missed the entire Lady Little Lion season with an injury, made a verbal commitment to North Carolina on Wednesday night to attend the school and join the women’s volleyball team.
“After visiting last weekend I knew it was the school for me,” Leath said. “It was a mix of great academics as well as wonderful athletics, which is exactly what I’m looking for. I had a conversation with the coach, Joe Sagula, and he talked about the kind of player that his program needed and I knew that was the player that I was and I could do it for his program.”
The commitment comes after a lengthy search across the country, although she must wait until November of 2013 before she can sign her National Letter of Intent. She said the search, which drew interest from a number of programs including several top-20 schools was narrowed to UNC, Florida and California before she finally settled on the Tar Heels, who are off to a 13-2 start to this season.
Leath is the daughter of Randall and Susan Leath, the publisher of the Centre Daily Times.
While narrowing the list was tough enough, Leath also had the tough task of informing her father she would not be attending his school — Randall Leath played basketball at Florida.
“Through the whole process my parents were not pushy toward any school,” said Leath, who plans to study business. “They said, ‘Wherever you want to go we support you 100 percent’ Of course for a while I really wanted to be a Gator because of course my dad is a grad and we wear the same number, but I felt like UNC is better for me. I’ll still continue the legacy, just not at the same alma mater.”
The fall has been tough on Taylor Leath, having to miss the entire high school season. While playing with the U.S. A-2 program at the U.S. High Performance program in Iowa in late July, Leath suffered chipped cartilage in her knee, requiring surgery.
“I’m ahead of schedule on everything,” Leath said. “Everything feels great, my knee feels great as if I’m heading in the right direction.”
She said there is a slim — very slim — chance she could be back for the tail end of the Lady Little Lions’ season, but she has remained with the team, attending most practices and being the leading cheerleader from the bench during matches. Being forced to watch from the sideline has given her a new perspective on the game, and has allowed her to see aspects the coaches see that she misses while caught up in each play.
“It’s been rough not being able to play,” Leath said. “I’ve still been able to make the experience a positive. I’ve been with my teammates and helped lead them from off the court and taking a step back is also helpful for me as a person.”
The 6-foot-2 outside hitter was second on the team with 247 kills last season, also racking up 152 digs, 109 blocks and 31 aces. She was selected to prepvolleyball.com’s Soph 79 list over the summer, noting the nation’s top rising juniors.
“She made some vast improvements through her club season,” Lady Little Lion coach Chad Weight said. “It’s not only the club season, it’s that kids’ bodies mature and they understand the game better.”
The junior spent last spring and summer playing with the Synergy club program based in King of Prussia. Her team, the Orange 17, played in tournaments all over, from coast to coast, giving her plenty of exposure to college coaches and producing a national club championship.
“It was difficult but it was definitely worth it,” Leath said. “I feel as if I got a lot better as a player. I did what I had to do and my family was very supportive. We needed to move on and get to a place where I could play more competition and play at a different level and help me be what I saw myself as, which is a pin hitter. ... Everything is worth it, every trip, every hour, every minute is worth what we did.”
Leath is the latest of an ever-lengthening list of Lady Little Lions who have found college volleyball scholarships to reward their hard work. Leath’s sister, Randi, is a freshman at DePaul, where she is sitting through a redshirt season with the Blue Demons. Also, current State College seniors Emma Weakland and Suzanne Horner also are heading to Division I schools, with Horner committed to Mississippi State and Weakland going to Winthrop. Weakland also is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury.
“We all as coaches wonder what could have been with Taylor and Emma,” said Weight, whose team is 12-0 this season without the two outside hitters. “Those two are very terminal and obviously they play very well all the way around, but this is what we’ve got and this is what we have to win with and we’ve done a pretty dang good job of that so far.”
Leath gave a lot of consideration to many other schools, and got a lot of help along the way, including from Penn State coach Russ Rose and his wife, Lori, who helps the State College program on occasion.
“He definitely helped me, drove me and pushed me to be the athlete that I am now ,” Leath said. “I have a lot of thanks to give him.”