If you didn’t notice her “milly-rocking” and “juking” during warmups, then you’ll certainly notice her once she’s set foot on the court. Junior middle blocker M’Kaela White stands at a staggering 6 feet, 4 inches that doesn’t even include her blue afro.
With her, White brings an infectious, energetic aura, dominant presence and high-flying blocks and kills. However, as skilled as White is now, she didn’t begin her volleyball career that way. Early on, she showed more potential than polish, and only started 12 games her freshman year as a Duke.
Unlike her peers, White began playing volleyball her sophomore year of high school. She transitioned from basketball, a sport seemingly every tall athlete gets shoved into.
“I hated [basketball],” White said. “I had the worst coach ever. She used to make us run a lot and I just did not like it. My P.E. teacher when I got to high school was like, ‘You should try out for volleyball.’”
Despite her parents’ insistence that she wait until sophomore year to join the team, White and volleyball gelled immediately. Her move into the sport was helped by a teammate of hers. As the other “tall girl” in high school, she mentored White during her transition into the sport.
White excelled in high school to the point that she declared her intent to play for JMU a year before coming to the school and was offered a full scholarship. But she was still undeveloped as a player. Despite not reaching her potential, the coaching staff saw the player she could be.
“Her freshman year, she came in and she was just super bubbly, super happy,” junior outside hitter Kelly Vahos said. “She was just getting the hang of things. She wasn’t really up to speed.”
However, things changed quickly. Her sophomore season was her breakout year. She led the team with 160 blocks and was named to the 2017 CAA All-Tournament team, Second All-CAA team and VaSID All-State First Team. White rapidly learned from head coach Lauren Steinbrecher.
“She’s very coachable,” Steinbrecher said. “I can be direct. She’ll do exactly what you say. She has good body awareness, she understands it. She’s good with feedback, really easy to coach.”
White became a leader for the team and is one of its captains. Her skill and leadership has helped the team continue to grow and succeed.
“She’s a leader on the court,” Vahos said. “She’s driving you to be a better player, which her freshman year she was being pushed by other people to be the better player. Now she’s that person you look at to get motivated. She’s developed so much under theses coaches and through the older players.”
White acts as the energizer for the group, constantly igniting her teammates’ passions. Her celebrations and attitude are infectious for the other players. Off the court, White acts as a big sister for the Dukes. She’s someone her teammates can go to for advice, joking around and trash talk.
Most importantly, White treats everyone on the team in a way that makes them feel special. She makes her teammates feel like they belong.
“She holds a special place in my heart,” Vahos continued. “She makes me feel comfortable to be myself. Growing up, you never feel comfortable doing things around people that didn’t accept you. She brings out the best side of me.”
This middle blocker is more than an athlete, volleyball player or student. White is first and foremost a friend, both to her teammates and coaches. There’s no one else like the player with the blue afro.
Contact Michael Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more volleyball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.