Hitting the heights

6 feet 3 at age 15, Bailey Webster is a net asset for both St. Paul's volleyball and basketball teams, which is just the way she likes it

Volleyball

September 13, 2006|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Sun Reporter

The attention Bailey Webster drew at the Amateur Athletic Union Junior National Volleyball Championships in mid-June made the St. Paul's sophomore a little self-conscious.

In only her second season as a club player, Webster never expected college coaches to flock to see her. But at 6 feet 3 and with exceptional quickness, reach and power, she generated a buzz around the courts at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.

College coaches came looking for a potential recruit. Some filmed her in action with her Wild Blue Attack 15-and-under team.

"Everybody was staring at me, and I was like, `Oh, my goodness.' They had their shirts on and you could tell they were college coaches. I was a little tense with everybody looking at me - not just the coaches but how everybody knew they were there to see me," she said.

Webster, who turned 15 in July, isn't comfortable being the center of attention, but she might have to get used to it.

John Tawa of PrepVolleyball.com, likened Webster to another player who turned heads as a youngster and developed into the 2006 Gatorade National Player of the Year - Megan Hodge, a 6-3 outside hitter from North Carolina now playing at Penn State.

"Webster plays all the way around, shows good hands and strong blocking instincts. And her jumping ability? Forget about it! She already gets her entire head above the net," Tawa wrote under the heading "Star Watch" in his daily newsletter at the national tournament.

Webster has a 24-inch vertical leap and can reach a height of 10 feet 8. On the basketball court, with a one-step takeoff, she can grasp the rim with both hands, something St. Paul's basketball coach Jim Stromberg said he has never seen a girl do.

Last fall, Webster debuted as a freshman on the St. Paul's volleyball team, averaging 2.67 kills and 1.03 blocks and helping the well-rounded Gators to their first Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference title. She had 17 kills on 22 attempts in the three-game title sweep of Mount de Sales.

In the spring, she tried out for the USA Volleyball High Performance girls youth national team and was offered a spot on the training team - one of only 50 girls 15 or 16 years old nationwide to be selected, according to her Wild Blue coach, Don Metil.

"I agree [with Tawa] that she has that kind of potential. Obviously, just to look at her, her size is very encouraging at a young age. She's lean and jumps well and she really wants to learn the game," said Metil, the coach at Coppin State.

Tawa, who rates older players on his Web site, said Webster's long, lean frame, her athletic ability and her pedigree make her a prime prospect despite her inexperience. The success that her sister, Brooks Webster, a former All-Metro player at the Institute of Notre Dame, is having as a redshirt freshman at Alabama helps coaches project the potential of the younger sister, he said.

"She's certainly not the best sophomore in the country, but by the time she's a senior, if she gets the training and progresses at the rate everyone seems to think she will, she could be the best player in the country," Tawa said.

Webster is not even sure she wants to play volleyball in college. One thing is holding her back - her love for basketball.

She started playing with the Baltimore Cougars AAU team at 9 and remains close to her teammates. A strong defensive player with an emerging offensive game, Webster just can't let basketball go.

That spot she earned on the junior national volleyball training team? She declined, because she didn't want to renege on her commitment to her Cougars teammates to play with them at the AAU national tournament.

For as long as she can, Webster wants to play both sports.

That's fine with her St. Paul's coaches, Kelli Wilkinson and Stromberg. They don't put pressure on her to choose.

"It's awesome that she can be so well-rounded and dedicated to both sports," said Wilkinson, the Gators' volleyball coach. "Being a multi-sport athlete, to me, makes you a better athlete in each sport, especially basketball and volleyball, which are good complementary sports for each other. And it's nice to get that mental break."

Stromberg has talked to her about the possibility of playing both sports at a high Division I level, but he said she doesn't see herself as others do.

"Confidence-wise, I think she's still learning both sports, but she's much stronger than everyone else," said Stromberg, who said she is the best defensive basketball player he has coached.

"For a woman to be that tall, at some point you grow into that, but it's harder at this age. She's really humble, and she doesn't see herself as this elite athlete or this beautiful kid. All the attention's kind of tough for her."

Webster said she knows she likely will have to choose between volleyball and basketball as her sister did.

Brooks Webster, who helped the IND volleyball team to the 2004 IAAM A Conference crown, advises her sister not to succumb to any pressure to choose until she's ready.

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