When Taylor Leath was told to report to the athletic office at State College Area High School, she was thinking the worst.
Her mind was racing as to what might be bringing discipline her way.
“I had no idea,” Leath said. “I thought I got in trouble, and I was like, ‘What?’ I was freaking out but I had no idea.”
She was breathing a little easier when she walked into the room and saw her father, Randall, and Lady Little Lions volleyball coach Chad Weight.
Then the news was delivered: Leath was named the state Gatorade Player of the Year for volleyball — the top award for the sport in Pennsylvania.
“I’ve been working really hard, and hoping and praying that it all would pay off, really,” Leath said.
The State College senior made some history with the honor. She is not only the first state Player of the Year from State College, but the first from Centre County in any sport since the honor was first handed out in 1986.
The award has been given out in multiple sports since then. Past winners from the state include former Penn State All-Americans Christa Harmotto and Melissa Walbridge and current Nittany Lion Kelly Robertson.
“It doesn’t happen to too many people, especially for our small little community around here,” Weight said.
“That’s incredible,” Leath said, fumbling through her answer after learning about making local history. “There are so many people who helped develop me. It’s definitely not an award that only I hold. There are several people here who helped me out in developing as a person and a player, and they carry the award with them, too. I’m speechless with things like that. That’s incredibly humbling. There are too many words to explain how many people helped me get to this place.”
The 6-foot-3 Leath led the Lady Little Lions with 384 kills, averaging 4.7 kills per set, while hitting .340. She also led the team with 223 digs while adding 46 aces and 42 blocks in helping the team to the District 6 Class AAA title and a berth in the PIAA tournament.
“She has a great all-around game,” Mike Krause, Parkland High School’s coach, said in a statement from Gatorade announcing the award. “She anticipates well, she varies her swing and she has great presence blocking. She can dominate a game.”
Her all-around game, and on-court knowledge, grew over her career, not only playing at State College but also club ball, the last two years with the Revolution club in King of Prussia. She also holds a 3.95 GPA, plus she has volunteered with Special Olympics, youth volleyball camps and a community-inclusion program for students with developmental disabilities.
“She was born with some God-gifted talents,” Weight said. “But she worked very hard at making sure she didn’t let those talents go to waste. It’s not just a volleyball award. There’s also the academic part, and she’s worked very hard at both.”
She is headed to North Carolina on a full scholarship. She joins a team that finished 27-5 this season, losing to California in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last weekend and was ranked 15th in the AVCA’s final regular-season coaches poll.
“Taylor is a six-rotation outside hitter who can play at either the left or right side,” Tar Heels coach Joe Sagula said about Leath last month in a statement announcing her commitment. “At 6-3, she is agile and has the ball-control skills to be a primary passer, strong defensive skills, and the talent to attack the ball at a very high level. She is one of the top outside hitters in the class of 2014, and we are so fortunate with her competitive goals, she will be a leader for the Tar Heels. She is driven, both on the court and academically (she) will be very successful.”
Leath is the daughter of former CDT publisher Susan Leath. Taylor Leath will be moving to Delaware in January, but will complete her State College degree through online courses before she heads to Chapel Hill in the summer.
She and teammate Christine Irwin were both All-State selections by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association, and Leath also is No. 90 on prepvolleyball.com’s Senior Aces list for the nation’s best players.
Gatorade annually singles out the top player in all 50 states, along with Washngton, D.C., in nine different sports for boys and girls, with each state winner in the running for the national player of the year award. Academic achievement and community involvement are taken into account along with athletic success.
“Playing with these girls was awesome,” Leath said. “But to come out with such an achievement is incredible for me. I’m in shock still. It’s incredibly exciting and humbling.”