Olympic pedigree runs in veins of UA libero Brittany Leonard, cousin of gold medalist Kerri Walsh
Playing Division I collegiate volleyball was not so much a choice for Arizona freshman libero Brittany Leonard as a rite of passage.
Leonard is the second cousin of 2004 Olympic gold medalist and Stanford alumna Kerri Walsh.
"I just wanted to play in college one day," said Leonard, who was ranked second nationally among liberos by www.prepvolleyball.com. "She inspired me to be better.
"We're fairly close," added the San Jose, Calif., native. "We're family. She's someone to look up to. She's really inspiring, because I know I look up to her and hopefully be as good as her someday."
Leonard has already followed in Walsh's footsteps, as both athletes played high school volleyball at Archbishop Mitty High School.
Leonard helped her team win the state title in both 2003 and 2004 and was named first-team All-West Catholic Athletic League her senior year.
The volleyball bloodlines run even deeper, as Leonard competed in club and high school volleyball with Walsh's younger sister, K.C. Walsh, who is a freshman setter for Loyola Marymount.
"I've played club with her little sister my whole life," Leonard said, who walked on to the Arizona team. "I grew up with her. She's my same age. I've played volleyball with her since I was in seventh grade, and we played in high school together. So (K.C.) and I were really good friends."
Walsh's other sister, Kelli, played volleyball for Santa Clara in 2003. Walsh's mother and Leonard's aunt, Margie, was a two-time volleyball MVP for the Broncos in 1974-1975.
"Volleyball runs in the family," Leonard said.
Leonard, who shares playing time with sophomore transfer Katie Jackels, is already making her presence felt on the Wildcat squad, averaging a team-high 3.61 digs per game.
She recorded a career-high 27 digs in Arizona's four-game win over Fresno State Sept. 10.
"Brittany had a tremendous impact for us as a starting libero," said Arizona head coach Dave Rubio. "I'm excited to have her here. She was really late in her decision-making, so we're really lucky and very fortunate that she decided to come here."
Rubio said Leonard was also recruited as a scholarship athlete by Nebraska, Texas and Santa Barbara.
In addition to living up to Kerri Walsh's reputation, Leonard has had big shoes to fill within the Arizona program, as she replaces libero Kelli Mulvany, who graduated last year.
"I don't feel any pressure," Leonard said of filling Mulvany's spot. "But I don't want to replace her in a lower way. I want to live up to her expectation and play as well as she did, so it's not like I'm any different."
In addition to a passion for the sport, Leonard may have also inherited Kerri Walsh's composure on the floor.
"She has a great feel for the game," Rubio said. "She has a lot of self-confidence, which I think is a prerequisite to play at this level. She carries herself and has a nice presence and carries herself with that confidence. As a result, she's able to perform at a real high level."
Senior outside hitter Kim Glass has also recognized Leonard's poise on the court.
"Brittany has a lot of confidence," Glass said. "But I think what she needs to do is maintain the confidence through the more difficult matches and not get nervous, which is hard when you're a freshman. As soon as she keeps her confidence and knows everything that's on the court, she's going to be great."