By Walter Villa
Audriana Fitzmorris, a 6-foot-4 middle blocker, is a straight-A student and a part of the USA Volleyball pipeline. Her coaches describe her as a “once in a lifetime” player and rave about her unselfishness and maturity.
And, oh yes, she’s only 14.
Fitzmorris, who last week graduated from eighth grade at Prairie Star Middle School (Leawood, Kan.), has an exciting summer lined up.
She is the youngest of 24 athletes invited to participate in the U.S. Volleyball Girls’ Youth National Team tryout, which starts Thursday and runs through June 3 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Fitzmorris is set to graduate high school in 2016. Every other girl on the training team is in the class of 2014 or 2015.
“I’m a little surprised (to be invited) because I knew a lot of older girls were going to be there,” Fitzmorris said. “But I am overjoyed and excited.”
Of the 24 girls invited to Colorado, USA Volleyball will select 12 to take to the Dominican Republic on June 24 for the NORCECA Girls’ Youth Continental Championships.
The U.S. will use the tournament to try to qualify for the 2013 FIVB Girls’ Youth World Championship.
Fitzmorris, who also plays basketball when time permits, comes from a tall and athletic family. Her mother, Maria Luisa, is 6-1. A native of Lima, Peru, she played volleyball and basketball for her national team and competed in Brazil’s pro basketball league.
Fitzmorris’ father, Michael, is 6-7. He played college basketball at UC Irvine and professionally in Sweden.
Of the couple’s four children, the second oldest, Alex, 20, is the only Division I athlete to date. The 6-4 middle blocker played her freshman season at Arkansas and her sophomore season at Boston College, where she was third on the team in blocks last year.
Fitzmorris also has two brothers: 6-7 Michael, 21, who attends Alabama and is an avid rower; and Keenan, a 6-1 basketball player who just finished sixth grade.
Fitzmorris, though, appears to be the best athlete in the family. In fact, she’d be the best athlete in most families.
“What is most unusual about Audriana is that for someone her height, she is extremely coordinated and agile,” said Bob Dickerson, who coached her at Prairie Star last season.
“I’ve never seen someone that tall have that kind of body control. She is a good jumper with an active arm. Her height gives her angles, and she’s a smart kid.
“You expect her to be the best hitter, but she’s also the best passer and everything else. I’ve coached for 30 years, and she is the most elite athlete I’ve ever worked with, boy or girl.”
Dickerson said watching Fitzmorris play against kids her age is like watching a woman against children.
“A couple of times, she hit the ball so hard that it (struck an opposing player) in the face,” Dickerson said. “The girl started bawling. I told Audriana, ‘She’ll be OK. Just keep swinging.’ ”
Fitzmorris said she feels bad for her opponents under those circumstances.
“I sometimes go over there and make sure they are OK,” she said. “I apologize and let them know that I wasn’t aiming for them.
“I know I have to be aggressive, but I don’t want to be mean. I don’t want to be over-aggressive.”
Those sentiments don’t surprise Michelle Abshire, who was Fitzmorris’ first coach at the Kansas City-based club Mid-America Volleyball, known as MAVS for short.
With Fitzmorris anchoring the team, the MAVS finished fifth in the nation at the 2010 Junior Olympics (12-under). Last year, the MAVS came in second (13-under).
“She was a huge part of our teams -- she did it all for us,” Abshire said. “A lot of teams take their big middles out and replace them with a libero when they get to the back row. But Audriana played all the way around.
“She has a great jump serve and plays terrific defense. She’s such a talented athlete and works so hard -- she deserves to stay in and play all the positions.”
Talent aside, Abshire said it’s Fitzmorris’ personality that makes her a true winner.
Fitzmorris is quiet, her coach said, but not shy or timid. She is not afraid to call for the ball and is a team captain and leader.
“She is one of the most humble players I’ve ever met,” Abshire said. “Most players who have the number of kills that she has would want to showboat. But that’s just not Audriana.
“There really isn’t a selfish bone in her body. She wants her teammates to succeed, which is why she is so well-liked.”
Some of the people who like her most are college recruiters. You can bet she is on their radar already, and the amazing part is that doctors recently told Fitzmorris she’s not yet done growing.
But before she picks a college, Fitzmorris and her family still have to figure out what high school she will attend.
Perhaps the family can use the high school choice as a practice run for what is sure to be difficult college decision in a couple years.
Fitzmorris, whose favorite subject is math, is interested in studying medicine and said she knows what she seeks in a college.
“I want it to be diverse,” said Fitzmorris, who understands Spanish but would like to improve her ability to speak her second language. “I also want a college that has a good balance between academics and athletics.
“I like being a student-athlete. I’m a hard worker, and when I put my mind to something, I’m really focused.”