Top of Her Class: Khalia Lanier

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Khalia Lanier

Arizona Storm club standout Khalia Lanier’s father knows a thing or two about high-level athletics.

Bob Lanier is an NBA Hall of Famer who enjoyed an outstanding career with the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks, both of which have since retired his number.

But for Khalia Lanier, one of her father’s favorite sayings has stuck with her through the years: Put the extra in ordinary and you get extraordinary.

Ive learned from my dad’s experience, she said. The words he has to offer mean a lot to me. He’s helped me with this journey. Ive always tried to take his advice and learn from it.

To say the least, Lanier has taken her father’s words to heart and has done a rather good job of putting the extra in ordinary.

Lanier has impressive resumes at the high school, club, and international levels as an outside hitter. In the fall, she’s headed to USC to continue her career as the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2016 according to Volleyball‘s annual Girls Fab 50 poll, which asks an esteemed panel of Division I college coaches to rank the top recruits in the class. Lanier, also the 2015-2016 Gatorade National Player of the Year, edged Kansas juniors standout and Volleyball High School Player of the Year Audriana Fitzmorris for this year’s top honor.

She makes everybody around her so much better, said Arizona Storm club director Terri Spann, who coaches Lanier at the 18s level. Khalia is so athletic. She can do whatever you put in front of her. She’s an amazing athlete.

And she’s not a bad volleyball player, either. The 6’2″ Lanier, who touches 10’6″, gets it done all over the court. Khalia is an explosive hitter who jumps out of the gym. But one of her best strengths is ball control, Spann noted.

Lanier, who has been playing the sport for five years, said a big adjustment for her in recent times has been with her confidence level. I used to think about errors and now Im starting to get over that, she said. Terri has these things she calls the 7 Cs, which are things such as confidence, competitiveness, and compatibility. I focus on as many of those as I can. Ive been working on the mental aspect of the game and trying to strategize about who is on the other side of the net. Ive also been working on taking on more of a leadership role, whether it’s high school, club, or Team USA. Im working on everything. Everything can always be improved upon.

Today, Spann sees a completely different player. [Khalia] used to question herself and say she didnt know if she could hit around a big block, Spann said. I would say, You know, you always can hit over it. Now she can hit over and around the block and also can hit the ball anywhere she wants on the court. She’s not just a volleyball player. She’s an athlete who plays volleyball.

Arizona Storm teammate and setter Katie Oleksak (a Colorado State signee) noted Lanier brings another all-important aspect to the tablea great personality.

She’s our jokester, Oleksak said. She’s funny and outgoing and fun to be around in the gym. Khalia always lightens the mood.

Spann agreed. Khalia is an amazing athlete, but her personality constantly shines on the court. She’s a lot of fun to be around, and she puts everybody in a good mood. That helps team chemistry. Weve been part of some successful volleyball teams, and Khalia has helped us because she’s an amazing volleyball player and she keeps this group of girls very relaxed and makes sure were having fun.

A more relaxed and interactive team, Lanier noted, usually means favorable results in the win-loss column. I know I definitely can be intense and get frustrated with myself, she said. It’s so much easier when you are loose and having fun out there.

A major eye-opener for Lanier has been her experience in the USA Volleyball High Performance pipeline. She most recently played for the U.S. Girls Youth National Team that competed in the FIVB Women’s U18 World Championship in Peru in August of last year. With Lanier’s help, that team advanced to the gold-medal match.

It’s been very beneficial, Lanier said of her USAV experience. It definitely was humbling at first seeing people in your age range do the same things you do and have the same skill set or higher. It’s been nice learning from other countries and from girls who play your same position.

GYNT head coach Jim Stone, who is the former women’s coach at Ohio State, labeled Lanier one of the top-performing outside hitters in the world championships by the end of the tournament. Stone said two things stood out about Lanier in that particular environment.

First, she is a consummate team player, he said. She would focus on anything that would impact the team in a positive way. This might be working on her own game, problem-solving, talking with teammates and coaches, or making suggestions. What would be in the best interests of the team was always at the forefront of her thoughts.

The second thing is that when in a competitive situation, she would battle. Khalia has a very strong competitive streak in her. The competition was not just the scoreboard. When passing, she would battle the server. When hitting, she would battle the block. She would compete very hard to win the individual battles inside a point.

Lanier has enjoyed plenty of success over the last four years at Xavier College Prep High School in Phoenix (where she has a 4.21 GPA) and with her Arizona Storm club. This past fall, Lanier, who won a state title at Xavier as a sophomore, was part of a 34-7 team that made it to the state final. She’s won a pair of USAV Junior Nationals titles as well.

After this club season ends, Lanier will turn her attention to her collegiate career at USC. But it’s not going to be all volleyball for Lanier in Los Angeles.

I have a different view on everything, said Lanier, who is considering majoring in something in the medical field (orthopedic surgery has crossed her mind as a possible career path). Im going to college not for it to be all volleyball. I chose USC over my other options because it was the best fit for me academically without volleyball being a part of it. Im excited to play for USC. During my official visit, I was able to hang out with some of the players and got a really good feel for the school.

But first, Lanier would like to end her club career on a high note. Last summer, Arizona Storm came within one victory of the 17s title, which would have meant theyd be playing this year for a chance to win four USA Open division titles in a row in successive age divisions with the same core group of players. Instead, Lanier and the likes of longtime teammates Oleksak, Justine Spann, Lauren Stivrins, Hannah Combs, Willow Johnson, Kameryn Hill, and Alyssa Chisholm will try to win their third GJNC gold medal since their 15s season.

Were extremely motivated this year, Lanier said. We all have the same common goal. We all want to redeem ourselves out there for losing nationals last year. It’s such a great group of girls on and off the court. We love playing with each other, and we have such great chemistry, and that is what is going to set us apart.

Lanier’s long-term goals include playing in the Olympics one day. Whatever route she decides to go, however, there’s little doubt she will have success down the road.

The sky is the limit for her, Xavier College Prep coach Lamar-Renee Bryant said. If she wants to be an Olympian, she has all the tools to do so. She’s going to have a great career at USC, and it’s going to be a lot of fun watching her. Khalia is a true gem. She’s a six-rotation outside hitter who is a dynamic attacker from the front row and the back row. She can handle the ball and play good defense. She’s one of those one-in-a-million players.

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