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At the time of year when most high school seniors are anxiously awaiting acceptance letters from colleges, Kaylen Bannister is doing just the opposite.

Thursday afternoon, in the Great Hall at Ramstein High School in Germany, Bannister will be signing and sending back her letter of acceptance to play volleyball for the University of Arizona this fall.

That development came much to her surprise.

“I never thought I had a chance at a Division I school,” Bannister, a 6-foot-4 All-Europe middle blocker, said Monday.

“At the camps I attended, they said I should look to Division II or even a junior college.”

Bannister presciently ignored that advice.

“In January, I sent e-mails to schools I was interested in, telling them I am a 6-4 middle blocker and asking whether they would like to see a tape,” she said while standing in the gym where she helped lead the Royals to two straight European Division I titles.

You bet, replied Arizona.

Bannister sent off the tape, and the Wildcats responded with the letter-of-intent offer she’s signing Thursday.

It’s the beginning of big things for Bannister, according to her coach, Hia Sebastian.

“She’ll do well,” predicted Sebastian, a former Division I player at Auburn.

“(Arizona coach) David Rubio’s one of the best. He’ll be able to bring out all her talents.”

Arizona plays in the Pac-10, a powerhouse conference in women’s volleyball, including national Division I runner-up Stanford. Arizona finished the 2006 season with a 13-17 overall record, and a 4-14 mark in Pac-10 play.

The offer from Arizona has capped a meteoric rise for Bannister in volleyball. She’s been playing the game for only three years.

“At first, I played basketball,” she said. But in her sophomore year, Shannon Bryant, a tutor and the volleyball coach at the time, asked her to go out for the team.

Bannister blossomed in her new sport, where her slender frame didn’t detract from her height advantage, as it sometimes did in basketball.

“[Volleyball] came a lot easier,” she said. “Basketball never really flowed for me.”

If all goes according to plan over the next year or so, Bannister’s frame will become steadily less slender.

“I’m working with a personal trainer now, to bulk up,” she said.

The process will continue this fall. At Arizona, Bannister will be redshirting, working out and participating in all her team’s practices but not playing in games.

“That way I can play for four full years, instead of spending my first year on the bench,” she said.

Sebastian said the redshirt year offers many dividends, not all of them physical.

“They’ll make her a student of the game,” the coach said.

Don’t get the idea, however, that it’ll be all practice and no play.

“I’m going to the States later this month to play with a Junior Olympic team,” said Bannister, who spent part of last summer at the Seattle Junior Olympic camp as well as a camp at Gonzaga University in Washington and another in Oregon.

“When school’s out, I’ll go back and finish the season with the Junior Olympic team.”

Bannister is aware of the challenge that awaits her.

“I haven’t really played at that high a level before,” she said. “The girls are all the same height as I am, unlike in high school.”

Any trepidation?

“I’m definitely nervous,” she said, but added, “I’m really excited.”


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