From There to Here
Sept. 20, 2007
The serve is dug up by the rival squad and passed forward. A tight set and the star hitter goes up with a giant swing in motion. She connects with the ball, expecting it to find open hardwood on the opposite side of the net but instead it spins back in her face and hits the floor.
'Tara `Wild, Wild' West with the block!' shouts the announcer. 'Point Cougs!'
This scenario happens more often than not for middle blocker Tara West (pronounced Tar-a as in tar on the pavement). West led the Cougars in blocks last season with a total of 121 and averaged 1.14 blocks per game.
'There is nothing better in volleyball than shutting someone down. You've done something good and you've made them look bad,' stated West. 'It is so cool when the ball just goes straight down. That is the best feeling in the world.'
The six-footer definitely knows her way around the volleyball court, but it wasn't until recently that she transferred her game to the Northern Hemisphere.
West is originally from Perth, Australia, and didn't start playing in the United States until she moved in January 2006. Her road to Pullman wasn't a direct route from Down Under to the Pacific Northwest, however.
It wasn't until West was 12 that she got her first taste of volleyball by tagging along with her older sister to her high school practices. West began playing shortly after and picked up netball, the biggest female sport in Australia, at the same time. Netball, a different version of basketball, along with volleyball and schoolwork began to monopolize West's time. When her mother forced her to choose between the two sports, West picked volleyball.
'I was doing pretty well with netball and I was getting pretty high up in the ranks, but I was on the state volleyball team at home with all my best friends from school,' remembered West. 'My school was really the only big volleyball school in the state at the time so I was going to practices with my best friends every day. I think that was probably the main reason I chose volleyball over netball.'
West was well into her prep career when she blew out her knee at the age of 16 and was off the court for nine months. She missed a number of tournaments she had been training for and it was difficult to play catch up after missing nearly a year of training. A clean-up surgery two years later marked the second time West went in for a knee operation, but she hasn't had them operated on since.
One particular athlete helped West through this self-described emotional time: Kerri Pottharst, a fellow Australian. Pottharst won the gold medal in the beach volleyball competition at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and was a good friend of West's volleyball coach.
'I was in the shower when my mom shouted to me that Kerri Pottharst was on the phone for me. I was floored and ecstatic all in one,' said West. 'She reminded me of what she had accomplished despite all the knee operations she had gone through and told me to keep going for it and to never give up. I think I'll always remember that phone call.'
And go for it West did. After playing for her high school and club teams, West began competing with the Australia Institute of Sport in 2005. While there, she traveled Asia playing in volleyball tournaments and training full-time with the national squad.
Shortly after, the funding was cut and the program was canceled. With no place to continue her sport, West sought other options, eventually leading her to WSU. After a short stint in Sweden playing amateur club ball and six months of studies to earn the required credits, West transferred to the Palouse and started winning over fans with her skills on the court and her Aussie accent.
'Everyone asks me what the biggest differences are between here and home,' said West. 'They're both pretty similar but little things really stand out to me like the school spirit. We don't have that at home and it's neat to be in this small town where everyone is really supportive.'
With that support, the Cougars are looking to make this season a memorable one. Those who won't be returning for another season on the court in the crimson and gray plan to leave the program better off than when they started, to leave a legacy.
West aims to do her part in making that goal become a reality. Her intensity before matches is high and she spends a great deal of time committing the scouting reports to memory for reference while in the middle of matches.
'We want to make sure we leave something good behind,' said West. 'I have met so many people along the way through volleyball and I'm sad that this season will be my last. I want to play more.'
West is a pre-physical therapy major and plans to return to her home country at the end of next spring to complete her degree. Her boyfriend, a current student at the University of Idaho, will be going back with her, but Washington may still be on West's radar.
'I really like the Northwest. I like the Seattle and Portland areas and I'd like to live there,' commented West. 'I picture myself starting up a physical therapy practice eventually, living there and having babies.'
An Australian woman with the American dream? It could happen. Don't underestimate the power of small things. Look at where a ball and a net got Tara West.