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St. Paul's Bailey Webster, nation's top volleyball recruit, enjoyed process, did her homework, then found right fit with Texas

November 13, 2008|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

At one point during summer 2007, the volume of mail arriving at Bailey Webster's Towson home so overwhelmed the postal carrier that she knocked on the door asking to meet the person getting so much mail.

When the door opened, she met the No. 1 volleyball prospect in the nation, a 6-foot-3 powerhouse of a hitter for St. Paul's.

More than 200 coaches initially recruited her, inundating her with letters and media guides.

"At one point, we were getting 25 to 30 pieces of mail just for her a day, and that doesn't include e-mail," said her mother, Cedrina Webster. "The mail lady said, 'I just had to see who all this mail is for. It's killing my back.' "

Bailey Webster meticulously kept track of every bit of correspondence. Had she not kept that Excel spreadsheet up to date, she might never have found her way through the recruiting maze to the University of Texas. The senior's journey officially ended yesterday when she signed a letter of intent to play for the Longhorns, ranked No. 4 in the nation.

College coaches first caught sight of Webster at the Amateur Athletic Union Junior National Championships in Orlando, Fla., in 2006. With her height, athleticism and soaring vertical leap, she jumped right to the top of many of their recruiting wish lists.

"It was really exciting in the beginning realizing that people wanted you," said Webster, 17. "At times, it was a little too hectic trying to balance school and volleyball and then basketball ... but getting to have relationships with the coaches and some of the players when I was at their schools, it was a fun process. I'm going to miss it a little bit, but I'm glad it's over."

For a long while, Webster couldn't decide between basketball and volleyball, but as more opportunities arose for volleyball, she realized that was where she had the brightest future.

Few high school players can match her net game.

She jumps so high she can touch 10 feet, 8 inches. That's eight inches higher than a basketball rim and plenty high enough to hit over most blocks.

"To be able to touch 10-8 with no weight training ever in her life, that's unmatched," St. Paul's coach Kelli Wilkinson said. "There's maybe one or two volleyball players at the Olympic level who can do that, and here's Bailey, who was doing it as a 16-year-old. With weight training, she could conceivably reach 11 feet, which is ridiculous. No one can do that."

Webster received so many e-mails from college coaches that she opened an account specifically for their calls.

"I think she got to the point when she was narrowing it down to the top six that she felt like most of them were pulling at her," her mother said. "They were, 'What about me? Can I set up an official visit?' That's when she said, 'I can't wait for this to be over.' "

But those feelings didn't last long.

"It was stressful, but I learned to handle it," Webster said. "You can't really do anything about it, and I think when you just begin to have fun and you make it fun, it's not as stressful as some people might think."

Webster had plenty of people to turn to, especially her mother, Wilkinson and her sister Brooks Webster, who plays volleyball at Alabama. She and her mother learned a lot from her sister's recruiting process.

Perhaps the most fun was making the visits.

After whittling her list to Texas, Florida, Alabama, Stanford and Washington, she visited each one this fall before orally committing to Texas two weeks ago.

"I don't travel the country a lot, so being able to go to places I've never been to, like Seattle, it was just amazing. I may never have a chance to visit these places ever again, and that's what made me take it all in and enjoy it," Webster said.

Her weekend trip to Austin Oct. 17 to 19 was her third time on the Texas campus. When she first visited in September 2007, they rolled out the welcome mat, just as every school did. She saw volleyball matches, met the teams and spent time with the players and coaches. She also saw football games and met Longhorns coach Mack Brown and the entire football team.

She wanted to go to a big-time sports school, but Webster was savvy enough to look past the sales pitch. Her second visit to Texas was on a weekday when she arrived under the radar and experienced campus life as an average student would.

"I was able to go to a class, and that really helped, because I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to handle a class with so many people, like about 200, but it wasn't bad. I was like, 'I can learn in this environment,' " said Webster, an honor roll student who is considering majoring in business.

After all of her research, Webster found everything she was looking for.

"I was looking for that feeling that everyone says you get when you know it's right for you," she said, "somewhere that I can fit in, and I found it."

While navigating the recruiting maze, Webster managed to keep her focus on the Gators, and her teammates had no complaints.

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