Plucked from our June 1998 issue, this article introduces the world to Logan Tom. These days most everyone who follows volleyball is familiar with the 6'1" four-time Olympian, but in 1998 she had just had her debut with the national team and was still trying to be a "normal kid."
Just about every day Logan Tom was with the national team earlier this year, one or more of the older players reminded her that it’s important to look neat on the court and that she shouldn’t wear her uniform top hanging out as if she was headed for a slumber party.
Usually, she’d have it tucked in about three or four inches, and when they called her on it, she’d say, “What? Whatttttt? I’m tucked,” and play on.
“It’s just a habit,” she explained at the World Cup qualifier in San Antonio in January. “They don’t like that at all. I don’t know why.”
“See,” she said a few seconds later, pointing to her shirt, smiling. “Even now, it’s tucked out.”
This is a relatively insignificant anecdote in the life of Logan Tom, but it has a certain relevance because it’s about the only thing that distinguishes her from other players on the national team. You see her crush a pipe set out of the back row, you have a hard time believing that she is a 16-year-old junior at Highland High in Salt Lake City who lives with her mom and can’t name a song that was written before 1990.
It’s not a stretch to say she’s the hottest volleyball prospect that has come around in a long time. It’s just a coincidence that she’s also a teenager.
In San Antonio, she capped off a month training in the U.S. program by playing a key role in getting the national team qualified for the World Cup. We’re not talking about cheering from the bench and coming in for a couple of points at the end of each match, either. She was on the court a lot, and she often stood out by making big plays when the team was struggling.
“She’s 16 years old and God said, ‘Here’s a volleyball player,’” said U.S. assistant coach Matt McShane after the tournament. “And on top of that she’s the greatest kid you ever want to know.”
Ever since she was old enough to talk, Logan has been asking questions. Lots and lots and lots of questions. At age five, she’d use bath time to extract as much information as she could from her mom, Kris Tom. One time, Logan said she wanted to learn all about brains.
“What would you like to know?” her mom asked.
“I told you, ‘All about brains,’” she responded with a slight edge in her tone.
Four years ago, when her club coach, Keith Siddoway started working with her, he got a taste of Logan’s inquisitive style.
“She was the most annoying thing to me,” he says. “If she didn’t think something was perfect, she wanted to know every little thing she did wrong.”
In the finals of the Mideast qualifier in Indianapolis last season, her team, Klub Boom, was down 14-13. Siddoway called for Logan to hit line on the outside. She went up, crushed it, and missed by about an inch. Right after she landed—right after—she looked at Siddoway and asked: “What did I do wrong?”
By all accounts, she’s not much for small talk, so you aren’t likely to find a lot of kill-a-moment-of-silence type questions from her. If she asks about something, she usually has a specific reason.
And you had better have a specific answer.
“If you give her crap information, she’ll call you on it,” Siddoway says. “I feel sorry for anybody who coaches her who isn’t comfortable with giving her information.”
Why is she so fond of seeking answers?
“I just like to know why things are the way they are,” she says.
Here is what U.S. back up setter Laura Davis said about Tom after playing with her in January: “For her age, she has more understanding of the rhythm of the game than anybody I’ve ever seen. She’s probably the most mature 16 year old I’ve ever met.”
Logan was just a baby when her mother and father divorced. Her dad, Melvyn Tom, played nine years of pro football for the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles and now lives in Hawaii. He sees Logan and her older brother Landon every summer and calls to check in, but the day to day parenting has always been handled by Kris.
Logan was asked recently if it was hard not having her father around while she was growing up.
“It wasn’t really that hard,” she said. “I never knew what it was like with two parents, so it just seemed natural.”
Before Kris moved the family to Utah, they lived in California and she worked for a while as a stand-in for the prime time soap “Falcon Crest.” The long hours didn’t allow much time with the kids, though, so she went back to cocktail waitressing and returned to school to finish a degree in psychology.
Kris’ sister, Debbie Hunt, a schoolteacher from California, has helped financially by paying many of Logan’s volleyball expenses.
When Logan and Landon were young, Kris made a commitment to get them involved in sports, figuring that was a good way to give them a solid foundation for a healthy childhood. Since Logan spent summers with her father, she played baseball with the boys rather than softball with the girls. That didn’t prove to be a problem.
“It didn’t take long before she hit the ball over all the outfielders’ heads,” Kris says. “Then she had some respect.”
All along the way, Kris hasn’t been shy about mixing it up on Logan’s behalf. There was a dispute with the girls’ basketball coach at Highland about whether Logan could be on the varsity basketball team while also playing club volleyball, which she did as a freshman. Kris says he wouldn’t allow her to do both, and she thinks that’s a shame because Logan loves basketball and is very good at it.
The coach, Bob Durham, says she could have played both as long as she accepted having her game time cut if she missed practices. He agrees with Kris’ assessment of her daughter’s basketball ability.
“She’s as good an athlete as I’ve ever seen,” he says. “If she put the same time into basketball as volleyball, she’d be just as dominant in basketball.”
More than anything, the disagreement underscores Kris’ feeling that it’s important to question authority and not just fall in line and follow the pack.
“If I don’t take a stand,” Kris says, “what is Logan learning but to be a victim?”
When the basketball issue was at its hottest point, Kris talked to Logan about transferring to nearby Skyline High, but Logan didn’t consider it.
“These are my friends,” she told her. “I can’t play against them.”
It’s early afternoon at Highland High School. There is snow everywhere, but for a winter day in Salt Lake, the weather is mild.
While Logan and her two close friends Tameisha Hastings and Carrie Bowers mug for a photographer, Sherry Van Vleet, a school guidance counselor, takes a break from her schedule to talk about Logan.
“To me, she’s always been a senior,” Van Vleet says. “From the day I met her, she seemed like she was 21.”
Van Vleet says some kids come in and talk about anything, but Logan sticks to academics. Much of the information Logan has already looked up before coming in. She asks a few questions, gets her answers, and leaves.
Most of the time, Van Vleet sticks to academics, too, but she couldn’t resist asking a question when Logan returned from her national team experience.
The conversation went about like this:
Van Vleet: “How was the tour?”
Van Vleet: “You must have learned a lot.”
Logan: “That was the point, wasn’t it?”
Later, in the Tom living room, Logan, Tameisha, and Carrie are killing a few minutes before heading off to lunch at a nearby T.G.I. Friday’s. Logan is eating candy, pouring a handful at a time. When it is pointed out by a visitor that this isn’t exactly health food, she laughs a quick laugh and pours another handful.
A minute later, she revisits the food subject, mentioning that she had given up red meat.
She is asked why.
“I don’t know,” she says. “TV said it was bad.”
The burning question is, where does Logan Tom go from here? If you’re a good volleyball player, good enough to play Division I college ball, the drill isn’t all that complicated: You size up schools offering a full ride and choose the one you like best.
For Logan, it’s a little different. She has 4.0 GPA taking classes like AP Physics and AP Calculus, and her mom says she is a kid who not only has never had to be told to do her homework but once informed a friend who was over for the afternoon that it was time to stop playing and start studying. (The last time she got an A- was in seventh grade, which surely means the folks over at Stanford are positively drooling.)
With an academic record like that, coupled with her 6’1” height, her impressive all-around skills, and the comparisons she is already drawing to Karch Kiraly, she can go absolutely anywhere she wants.
But here’s the rub. The U.S. team could use her right now, which means every decision Logan makes about school and volleyball will be done with the knowledge that the Olympic carrot is dangling in front of her.
Mick Haley, who took over as national team coach last year, asked her if she wanted to join the team again for a tour with Russia in April, and he also explored having her move to Colorado to go to school so she can train with the team full time.
This is fairly new territory for USA Volleyball. In countries such as Cuba, great athletes are integrated into the sports machine at an early age, and the best of the best end up in the national program at age 14 or 15.
Here, most players compete in club ball, then go to college and show up on the national team at age 22 with limited experience. Since the disappointing seventh-place finish in Atlanta in ’96, youth development has been pushed up on the priority list, and Tom is the first subject in the experiment.
“Logan is a guinea pig of sorts for USA Volleyball,” Kris says. “I don’t see that as a negative thing. She was my guinea pig, and so was her brother.”
The way Kris looks at it, her daughter can be a trailblazer to benefit others. So far, Kris likes the way the national team has handled the situation. There hasn’t been a hard sell and tutors have been readily available to help Logan with her schoolwork.
Still, it isn’t easy. In San Antonio, Logan said she missed her friends and even high school. And when she was asked by a reporter if she had a hero, she said: “My mommy.”
By the time she got home, there was a lot to catch up on. Her mom says it was tough on her, and she thinks the added stress contributed to her getting walking pneumonia.
Siddoway says that a big priority for Logan is being a normal kid, but that’s obviously becoming increasingly difficult. There are times Logan wishes her schedule wasn’t so full, and that is as good an explanation as any why she has decided to restrict her national team training to summer and not to miss any more school.
“It’s too hard to make up,” she says. “It’s not worth it.”
The waiter at Friday’s is taking drink orders. Tameisha orders a Coke, Carrie a pink lemonade. Soon, everybody has spoken except Logan, who is still pouring over the menu for options.
A few seconds pass, and Tameisha smiles.
“She’s the worst decision-maker in the world,” she says, noting that shopping with Logan is usually an all-day affair.
Carrie, a right-side hitter on Logan’s club team, and Tameisha, a middle, began talking about the time Logan crushed a ball off the noggin of an opposing defender with such force that it bounced off the back wall of the gym. After it happened, Logan apologized.
“She always apologizes,” Carrie says.
“I don’t like people not to like me,” Logan explains.
The next 20 or 30 minutes are filled with two to three word Logan answers, which apparently is typical for her, except when she decides to take a long drive and have an in-depth talk with her mom.
As food is being consumed, a few anecdotes are spun, like the time the club team was driving to the beach in Florida and Logan asked if she should have brought her swimsuit.
“I thought we were going shopping,” she says.
Soon, the subject turns to what she thinks she’d be missing if she continued to shuttle back and forth to Colorado Springs during school.
“A life,” she says. “My car. Family. You don’t have a life there. At least, I didn’t. I wasn’t old enough to go out to the clubs.”
Would she take a shot at the 2000 Olympics if it meant starting college a year late? she is asked.
“I don’t know,” she says.
Addressing the same question, her mom says that she has always helped Logan gather information, but, ultimately, left her to make the final decision.
“She’s got a good head,” she says. “And she has got really, really good intuition.”
A few minutes later, Logan is on the subject of what she thinks she’ll be doing in 10 years. She says she’s not sure. Maybe beach volleyball.
It’s apparent her life and career has unlimited possibilities and most would probably agree that that is exactly how it should be when you’re 16.
As the lunch plates are cleared, Logan is asked how she would end her own story if she was writing it.
The answer comes immediately.
Originally published in June 1998