A hate-love relationship
Bailey Webster is known for her ability to knock down kills on the volleyball court for the University of Texas, but it wasn't always that way. In fact, when the 2012 NCAA women's volleyball tournament's most outstanding player first joined a league in eighth grade, she hated it.
"At first, just hitting the ball and getting it over the net was frustrating," she said. "Volleyball is more difficult than people think."
To make matters worse, the 6-foot youngster was playing with juniors and seniors in high school because of her height.
"My first time playing volleyball definitely wasn't a great memory," she said.
Her sister, Brooks, five years her senior, was the reason Webster decided to try her hand at volleyball in the first place. Although they are the products of basketball players -- her dad played at Tulane and her mom at Xavier -- she decided to follow in her sister's footsteps when Brooks signed on to play volleyball at the University of Alabama.
"She was the one to discover volleyball, and I looked up to her, especially since there weren't that many African-American girls playing at that time," she said.
Despite her reverence for her sister, the game's steep learning curve made for a rough first season.
"I wasn't just going to quit because I wasn't good at it," the 6-3 outside hitter said. "I wanted to give it one more shot."
Then one day that second season, everything clicked.
"Once I figured things out and started scoring points, then it was fun," she said.
As her high school career unfolded at St. Paul's School for Girls in Maryland, she gained much attention for her prowess on both the basketball and volleyball courts. With scholarship offers rolling in, she was faced with a big decision.
"In the end, letting go of basketball wasn't hard because it was clear I had a better future in volleyball," said Webster, who had 435 kills last year.
Still, she says it wasn't until after a career-threatening knee injury her sophomore year at the University of Texas that she realized how important the sport was to her. She sat out the entire 2010 season.
"After I tore my ACL, I saw volleyball in a totally different light. It wasn't the same without it," she said. "I realized how passionate I was about the game. I love going to practice, scrimmaging, and playing day in and day out."
Her comeback, of course, included leading the Longhorns to a national championship in 2012. She had 96 kills and a .458 hitting percentage over the Longhorns' six matches in the postseason.
In hindsight, it's hard for her to believe that she almost abandoned the game before her career got off the ground.
"It's crazy to think how much I hated it back in eighth grade," she said. "Now it's become a huge part of my life, and I have a legitimate chance to play in the Olympics."