Freshman Brooke Leslie kills her competition as she makes the varsity team

Sachi Nahas

From being dragged to volleyball clinics by her parents as an eight-year-old, to playing as the starting middle hitter for the girls’ varsity volleyball team, freshman Brooke Leslie has worked her way up on the volleyball court. Brooke is the first freshman girl to make Redwood’s girls’ varsity team since junior Lucy Walsh in 2016. In her first season, Brooke has an average of six kills, eight attempts and a 0.350 pct (hitting efficiency) per game. According to head coach Ursula Kunhardt, Brooke is well prepared for the next three seasons ahead of her.

Brooke was first introduced to volleyball watching her older sister, senior Taylor Leslie, which eventually influenced her to play. In second and third grade, Brooke was coerced to attend Absolute Volleyball Clinics as a “junior jumper”, where she was taught the fundamentals of the sport by professionals. At first, playing the sport was more of an attempt by her parents to spark extracurricular interest into Brooke. Attending more of her sister’s games, Brooke began to look at the sport with an open mind. According to Taylor, when Brooke finally got a grasp on the sport, everything played out naturally. After realizing her talent, she committed all of her energy to volleyball.

“It’s been amazing watching Brooke play with me on varsity since I’ve watched her play since she was eight years old,” Taylor said. “Witnessing her transformation and growth as an all-around player just in the past two months has been wild for me because I’ve always had so much belief in her.”

Brooke eventually decided to get involved competitively by joining her first club team in fourth grade, where her true interest ignited. When she finally found her fitted position as a middle and outside hitter, Brooke focused her time on improving her hits. Eventually, she made her way up to the Black team, the most competitive team for the Absolute Volleyball Club. Her first year on the U13 Black Team, Brooke and her teammates made it all the way to the Junior Olympics, placing third in the country for their age group. Before attending Redwood, Brooke ended her last club season with her team ranking 20th in the nation.

“[Ranking third and 20th in the nation] is kind of unreal when you think about it, but when you’re actually playing on the team, winning is a very normal event. We don’t even think about it because we all worked so hard to achieve the success we developed,” Brooke said. “But after the season when I’m not playing, I begin to process [winning] more, and it’s crazy to me.”

Not only is volleyball a sport Brooke has grown up playing, but it’s also part of her daily routine. Playing for a club team in addition to the high school team means practice and clinics seven days a week.

“When you’re playing a sport you love, it doesn’t bother you because you’re so invested in it and it’s a part of your whole life,” Brooke said.

Brooke initially went into tryouts thinking she would play on the JV team. The thought of making varsity never occurred to her.

“I know there are a lot of people who wanted to make varsity their freshman year and didn’t make it as upperclassmen. It’s surreal to me that I get a chance to be apart of the team being a freshman at a high school that is known for their volleyball team,” Brooke said. “When our coach sat us all down and said, ‘This is our team,’ I didn’t process it at first. It took me about five seconds to actually comprehend what she just said. When I realized I actually made it, I was speechless.”

Kunhardt always had confidence in Brooke, since she previously watched her play for club teams and at summer camps. However, being a first year Redwood coach, Kunhardt mentioned that she wasn’t familiar with the overall dynamic of last year’s varsity players. During the first day of tryouts, Kunhardt said she was able to gain a sense of who the returning players were, and who would be strong in specific positions. From there forward, according to Kunhardt, she immediately recognized Brooke’s energy on the court and positive attitude in tryouts, and believed that she deserved the spot on varsity.

“Brooke 100% earned her spot on the team, and I was very excited to bring her up. She is very coachable and always wants to further develop her skills, whether it’s in her own position or a completely different position. She’s an all around a great player and it’s an honor to have her on the team,” Kunhardt said.

Although Brooke has had experience playing on a widely-watched competitive team, when she first started to play as a starter on varsity, she knew she had to make sure not only to focus on her own playing, but to try and keep everyone else’s energy at an equal level by supporting her teammates.

“It’s all a balance; someone can be too energetic in the game and throw off the scheme, just as someone who is too down on themselves,” Brooke said. “One person can mess up the balance of the team, so it’s very essential for all of us as individuals to do our best so the team as a whole will do better.”

Coming into her sixth year playing competitive volleyball, Brooke is even more excited to be playing with girls she looked up to when she was first introduced to the sport. Having her older sister on the team allowed Brooke to easily socialize with upperclassmen, as she never played the sport up a team or age group before.

“I’ve done clinics and played and practiced with my sister, but we’ve never played competitively together before. Since my sister and all of her friends are on the team, I think they have really kept me under their wing and really make sure that I have a good time so I can really enjoy [this experience],” Brooke said.

Although Brooke may be three years younger than a majority of the team members, her superlative skills have impressed everyone on the team.

“She’s very focused on the court, and by watching her play, you can tell how passionate she is about this sport, which makes her such a strong and devoted player,” Taylor said. “Brooke is always so serious on the court, yet very positive, which is exactly what the team needs sometimes when we are down on ourselves.”

Additionally, the team dynamic this year has shifted from last year’s, as there is a new coach and two underclassmen. According to Kunhardt, Brooke was a main contributor to the change this season, and thinks that the team benefited as a whole from playing with fresh faces.

“Having Brooke and sophomore Elsa Green on the court helped the team a lot. Although they are both starting underclassmen, there isn’t a lot of animosity towards them. The team instead has a very strong team dynamic, and everyone is so supportive of one another, which I’m very fortunate about,” said Kunhardt.

According to Brooke, her hard work as an attentive volleyball player has paid off through her unwavering devotion to the sport. She thinks that she can only improve from  where she is at now, and is excited for what is in store for her the rest of this season. Brooke is also planning on continuing playing volleyball throughout high school, but has not thought about it on a college level yet.

“I love seeing everyone being successful and getting better. My love for the team isn’t about me; it’s about seeing teammates collaborate with one another to score,” Brooke said. “I’ve always loved watching volleyball, and now being apart of a sport I admire is so fun. I love being on the court with everyone and cheering. It makes me happy.”