Leilah Smith, Volleyball

Photography by Danny Fulgencio.

Six-foot-five Leilah Smith (watch her play here) didn’t start playing volleyball until she was 12. She walked on the court and was immediately intimidated because the other girls were so skilled. She preferred the sport over basketball, but worried, “Why did I start so late in the game?” Smith was determined and her hard work paid off. “I love volleyball more than any other sport,” she says.

Status: Hockaday senior; plays for Hockaday and Texas Advantage Volleyball, which is Number 1 in the nation; committed to Stanford University.

Position: Middle blocker.

Academic plans: Wants to major in human biology and dermatology with a minor in accounting.

Training: Last year she practiced Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for four to five hours a day, including working out with trainers, weighing in, doing position work and scrimmaging. “This year is a little chill,” she says. Practices are Mondays and Wednesdays, 6:30-9:30 p.m. She works out with a trainer Tuesdays and Thursdays, emphasizing strength, endurance, flexibility, agility and cardio.

Balancing sports and academics: “Last year was especially difficult. I would do my homework during free periods at school so I wouldn’t have to worry about it after practice because usually I would get home after practice at about 11:30 p.m. If I had a test, I’d stay up a little late. I like to cut myself off and have a limit — nothing past about 12:30 p.m., so I can get a good night’s sleep.”

The best advice she’s ever received: My parents tell me, “Don’t give up. Even if you’ve hit an obstacle, never give up.”

The most challenging thing she’s ever overcome: Ankle injuries. “Always the right ankle,” she says.

Nutritional routine: “No red meat, just chicken, not even fish. We have brown rice, fruits and vegetables. No junk food. No sodas, no sweets.”

Athlete she admires the most: Beach volleyball player and Olympian Kerri Walsh.

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