Leah McNary drew a prolonged “Wow” from a Creighton fan when she soared above the net for a kill.
Then the Bluejay band broke into its “Air McNary” cheer.
The sophomore outside hitter feels tiny next to her taller teammates in the front row until she jumps. Then you see why she had the nickname “Legs” growing up in Tarpon Springs, Fla.
“Just being able to jump higher makes me feel a little taller,” she said.
The 5-foot-10 McNary reaches 26¾-inches with her block jumps and has a 32¾-inch approach jump — a 4-inch improvement from last spring.
So what do people ask first after seeing her in action?
“‘Can you dunk?' That's the question I get the most,” McNary said. Ÿ For the record, that's a yes on a 9-foot rim but not on a regulation basket.
McNary didn't start playing competitive volleyball until she was in high school, but she's turned into a force at the net for the Bluejays (13-3, 4-1 Missouri Valley Conference) heading into Friday's showdown with league-leader Northern Iowa (13-5, 5-0). The teams meet at 7 p.m. at Sokol Arena. CU then hosts Bradley at 5 p.m. Saturday.
McNary is averaging a team-leading 3.03 kills with a .251 hitting percentage. She also has 0.50 blocks per set.
“I bring big kills when our team needs it,” she said.
McNary concentrated on basketball and piano growing up. She thought she was too clumsy to be a good athlete.
But with a dad, LaVaughn, who played basketball for Alabama State, and older sisters Lauren (Howard University) and Madison (Ohio State) who starred in track and field, Leah finally came into her own after she decided volleyball looked fun and tried out in high school. She started playing varsity her sophomore year.
Bluejay coaches saw her at an AAU tournament in Orlando and didn't think they had a chance until they talked to her club coach.
“We kind of snuck in, and we are sure glad we did,” CU coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said.
McNary was a little erratic as a freshman, but has developed more consistency this season while playing every match.
“She's carried a lot of the offensive load for us,” Booth said. “She's developed a ton from last year.”
Though gifted genetically, McNary has honed her jumping skills in the weight room, where she can back squat 195 pounds and power clean 135 pounds.
Last summer's two-week trip to China with Nebraska freshman Alicia Ostrander, though, is what has really changed her game.
She appreciated the freedom of playing after seeing how the Chinese trained eight hours a day and saw the sport as more of a duty. She grew as a player while taking on the challenge of traveling to a country where most people didn't speak English.
“I think it made me be able to handle adversity a lot better,” she said. “It built my confidence a lot.”
McNary used to get down on herself. She tries to be perfect on the court and in pursuing her psychology degree. She hopes to be an art therapist, and said she's her biggest critic.
“With things I love, I'm hard on myself,” McNary said. “I want to be the best I can be.”
It's not all hard work on the court, though. She loves the energy from a big kill and cheering on her teammates.
“It's really fun playing on this team. I think this is the most fun I've had ever,” she said. “We just smile about everything.”
They hope to be grinning after Friday's game, too.
“UNI is a really good team. It would be amazing if we'd beat them,” McNary said. “I think we're capable of doing so.”
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