BALTIMORE - On the wall of St. Paul’s School for Girls gym hangs a cutout of Bailey Webster, perhaps the best volleyball product to come out of Maryland, maybe ever.
She was the nation’s No. 1 recruit. She won a national championship with the University of Texas. And she’s likely to join the United States Olympic team in 2016.
Jala Tucker hopes to follow the same path.
“I want to go to college then to the Olympics,” she said.
Tucker is a member of the Baltimore Elite, a volleyball club that breeds future all-stars.
The club is led by head coach Kelli Wilkinson who trained Bailey Webster before she went off to college. Wilkinson was a standout at both Perry Hall High School and Towson University before she decided to open up shop in Baltimore.
“Since then, it’s just exploded,” Wilkinson said. “All the big clubs around here, all the girls play club year-round. It’s the third most popular sport in the country for girls in high school.”
That was partly her motivation to start the team.
“Volleyball wasn’t a big sport here and being the competitive person that I am, I really wanted to better the sport and get the girls to love it as much as I did,” Wilkinson said.
The sport has expanded in recent years to include fifth and sixth grade teams.
“I love the adrenaline of when you don’t know who is going to mess up first. It’s just so fun,” Tucker said.
And the long stereotype of being 7-foot-4 and quick, that’s long gone.
“If you have a passion for the game and you’re athletic and drive, that’s the kind of athlete that we’re looking for here,” Wilkinson.
The Baltimore Elite Volleyball under 15 team finished 19th out of 111 teams at a nationwide tournament in mid-February. The 16-year-olds finished 25 out of 125.