WALLA WALLA — You can’t teach tall.
So at 6-foot-3½, Wa-Hi’s Reece Carman already has a leg up on just about anyone who will oppose her from the other side of the net during this fall’s Mid-Columbia Conference volleyball season.
But there’s a lot more to Reece’s game than her height. Which is good, because the willowy 16-year-old’s volleyball ambitions go far beyond the high school scene.
In fact, one of the goals on Reece’s personal “bucket list” is All-American recognition once she becomes a collegian.
And the Blue Devils junior has already made a verbal commitment to Boise State University, according to her father, Patrick Carman.
“Reece is very excited to be a Bronco,” her father said. “As parents, we’re so impressed with coach (Shawn) Garus. He’s quickly turning Boise State into a championship-caliber team.
“Reece has worked incredibly hard to become the best person she can be, both on and off the court. We’re proud of her leadership, and her decision to verbally commit to play volleyball at Boise State.”
Reece initially put her name on the national volleyball map during her freshman year when the Carmans moved from Walla Walla to Southern California where Reece came into contact with Walt Ker and his Legacy Volleyball Club. Ker was a longtime and highly successful volleyball coach at Cal State-Northridge, and his three sons played volleyball at UCLA.
“They really looked at Reece and the potential that is there,” recalled Karen Carman, Reece’s mother. “It was good to finally hear that, for someone to sit down and talk to her and tell her that she really does have that potential.
“And that’s also when we started hearing from colleges.”
The family moved back to Walla Walla in time for Reece’s sophomore volleyball season. After spending her freshman year on the junior varsity roster, she started every varsity game of her sophomore year as a middle hitter, the same role she’s filling this fall as a Blue Devils junior.
It’s what happened between her sophomore and junior seasons that has really set Reece apart.
In March, she attended a USA Volleyball High Performance Championships tryout in Cheney, Wash. USA Volleyball is the governing body for the sport in the United States and manages the country’s youth and junior national teams as well as the men’s and women’s national teams. It is the pipeline to the U.S. Olympic teams.
There were approximately 50 athletes in two age brackets from Eastern Washington at the Cheney tryout, and Reece was one of two selected by USA Volleyball. She was originally one of 128 athletes assigned to the A2 Invitational Team Program, but she was soon bumped up a level and was one of 33 athletes in the Continental Team Program.
She spent 10 days over the summer at the Continental camp in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The camp involved five days of intense training and five days of competition when high-profile teams from volleyball hotbeds such as Southern California showed up.
“It was crazy,” Reece said of the experience. “It was volleyball, volleyball, volleyball, and it was so much fun. I loved it.
“I played outside, and it was all good players. There are no weak links once you get to that level. And I think I know now how good I can be.”
Parents were off limits during the first five days, but Karen made the trip to Florida and was there for the five days of team play. And it was there that she learned something else about her daughter.
“Usually when I walk into a gym, I just look for the tall girl,” she said. “But in Florida, they were all tall.”
A surefire sign that height alone will not get Reece to where she wants to be as a volleyball player.
Fortunately, what will is in her DNA.
Reece’s grandfather, John Wilcox of Milton-Freewater, and John’s brother, Dave, played in the National Football League.
John, who wound up coaching at Whitman College, played for Philadelphia in 1960 when the Eagles won an NFL championship.
Dave played 11 seasons for the San Francisco 49ers and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
“My brother Mike was a great athlete as well,” Karen said. “And my husband is a good athlete. There are just great athletic genes.”
Ker, the former Cal-Northridge coach, will vouch for that. It was Reece’s athleticism, not her height, that caught his attention during the Carmans’ brief stay in California.
“First of all, there’s no question that Reece has the size and frame,” Ker said in a telephone interview. “But the other thing is a wonderful gift.
“She is fairly explosive, more so than most longer kids, and she has good movement skills, a pretty good vertical jump and arm speed. She hits the ball with a fair amount of velocity. That combination alone from a physical standpoint is terrific.”
But there’s more.
“The real wild card,” Ker said, “is that she is such a great learner.
“She is incredibly motivated, and on top of that she has a great IQ. And that sophisticated mental ability has translated into picking up the mechanical and technical stuff we have taught her.
“She came to us pretty raw, unlike a lot of the California players who pick the game up at 6 and 8 and 10 years of age. But she has progressed rapidly because she is such a great learner.
“You put those three things together — frame, movement and learning — and you have a kid with unlimited potential.”
When the Carmans made the move to California in December of 2011, it was on a trial basis. And though Reece’s volleyball development took an important step forward, she and her older sister Sierra pushed for the family’s return to Walla Walla.
“I was happy coming back to Walla Walla,” Reece said. “I missed it. It was kind of bittersweet, because I loved volleyball down there.
“I had lived my entire life in Walla Walla, and it was such a big change coming from a little town to a huge town in California. It was nice to come back.”
Sierra was a senior captain on last year’s Wa-Hi volleyball team. She had offers to play volleyball at several smaller colleges, but opted to enroll at Oregon State University instead and is no longer playing competitively.
“She loves to play,” Reece said of her older sister. “She just didn’t want to play in college. I think she wanted the real college experience.”
The Blue Devils were a disappointing 1-13 last season. Reece is hoping for a better outcome this fall as a junior, but she has learned to compartmentalize her volleyball experiences and keeps them in perspective.
“It was a hard season, but a fun season,” she said of her sophomore year. “My sister and her best friend were our senior captains, and our team was really cool. But game-wise, it was discouraging.
“The levels are just different,” she added, comparing her high school team to club teams she has played on in recent years.
“In high school, all different ages play together and it all depends on how it pans out,” she said. “It’s good if you have five seniors, but the next year all of those seniors are gone and you have a young team.
“In club, you grow up with your team all the way through. And by the time you are 16 or 17, you really click. The chemistry is good and it really works.”
The high school season, she said, is a time to work on her game in a less stressful setting.
“I use that time to improve my skills and get more reps with people I have grown up with and love to be with,” Reece said. “It’s a time to just relax. The club season is competitive and hard.”
And it’s obvious she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I want to move up if I can,” Reece said. “I know I want to keep playing. I want to play professionally. And somewhere on my bucket list, I want to be an All-American.
“I have my future planned around volleyball from now on. It’s what I want to do with my life.”
But just in case it doesn’t work out, she has a fallback plan.
“I love art,” Reece said. “And I like English. My dad is a writer and I got that — drawing and writing — from his artistic side.”
Patrick Carman is a New York Times bestselling author of 30 children’s books.
So if the arts, and not athletics, is a path Reece Carman one day decides to follow, there’s every reason to believe she will be successful.
After all, it’s in her DNA.