Basketball was always Melissa Ferris's No. 1 sport in high school. Growing up in Southern Pines, N.C., she was always told basketball would be her ticket to college. But this 6-foot-2 senior's heart was always in volleyball.
"When I started high school, basketball was king," said Ferris, an outside hitter on the Arizona women's volleyball team. "But as I progressed, I started to like volleyball a little more."
It was tough for Ferris because a bulk of her collegiate offers were for basketball, not volleyball.
"I had developed a passion for volleyball, but because I was from North Carolina I received numerous offers for basketball," Ferris said. "But as I continued to improve, I got some offers for volleyball."
After she decided to pursue volleyball, Ferris played on the (North Carolina) Tarheel juniors team. But because the team was not successful, she felt it did not prepare her for college.
"When I was in juniors, I was always the go-to player," Ferris said. "But when I arrived here I realized that everyone was real good."
Ferris sat on the bench most of her freshman year. It was a humbling experience for her, but the real change came when David Rubio took over the coaching reigns at Arizona.
"When (former coach) Rosie (Wegrich) was here, she put up with a lot of crap," Ferris said. "But when Dave came in he didn't allow my attitude and that made me more of a team player."
The next two years under Rubio was when Ferris started to come into her own. She led the team both years in kills and started to add thought, in addition to velocity, to her hits.
"When I came in my freshman year, I would just swing away not knowing where it went," Ferris said, "whereas last year I was much more accurate and could read defenses."
But Ferris' popularity reached its peak when she was named to the silver medal-winning East team at the 1993 U.S. Olympic Festival. It was then that she realized how good a player she really was.
"I had always thought that the great players, like UCLA's Annett Buckner, were gods," Ferris said. "But in the Olympics I found out that they were human, and that I could be just as good as they were."
But playing volleyball is not all roses Ä there are many thorns players have to deal with. Managing time is one of those thorns. For Ferris, finding time to study is a challenge in its own right.
"It is tough to come back from a tough road trip and sit down to do a paper," Ferris said.
This year Ferris has continued her success and is one of the most feared outside hitters in the conference.
"She brings a lot of power to the floor," said UCLA coach Andy Banachowski. "You just have to try to defend her by picking out one area to block and another to dig."
Ferris' power is shown in her 230 kills and 4.03 kills per game. She has been a consistent force all season, recording double figures in kills in 14 matches. Three of these matches were in the ASICS Grand Prix, a tournament in which she was named MVP.
"For the rest of our season, I would like for us to play complete games at our level," she said. "If we are consistent and continue to improve, we should have a successful season."
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