Bred to serve up the competition


John Freitag

Freshman defensive specialist Tani Stephens serves the ball during a game against Washington in Bohler Gym, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013.

From her family friend’s backyard all the way to Bohler Gym, Tani Stephens has lived and breathed volleyball since childhood.

Stephens, a freshman defensive specialist for the Washington State University volleyball team, was encouraged to play volleyball from a young age. Her family is full of volleyball players, including her aunt, uncle and father.

At that family friend’s house was a sand volleyball court that Tani said she frequented, along with many other families there to play.

“My uncle is actually the one who decided that, since there were so many families, that he was going to make a clinic for all the kids that were out there watching because we just ran around and made sandcastles,” she said.

That clinic was Stephens’ first introduction to playing volleyball and she said she nearly instantly fell in love with the sport.

“I think playing with my family is one big thing (that led me to fall in love with volleyball) because since I got into it my family got into it more, so even my brother and my mom started playing more,” Stephens said.

Stephens’ father Daniel, who played in competitive men’s indoor volleyball leagues, encouraged her to join a club team and stuck around as one of her main coaches.

Her dream has always been to play volleyball in college and eventually, in her freshman year of high school, she realized that it was a real possibility.

“My freshman year I was on varsity, so that was one thing, knowing I was good enough to play with the older girls,” Stephens said. “Also in club, I was always playing up (in age division). I think I was seen (by colleges) earlier on because of that.”

The interest schools such as Portland State and Montana State started to show up her sophomore year.

Having grown up in Albany, Ore., about 12 miles from Oregon State University, Stephens attended many OSU volleyball camps that led to interest from the Beavers early in her junior year.

Later that year interest came from other schools, including Washington State.

Stephens said she was super excited to hear from the Cougs. “I called Burdette (Greeny) the next day and we had this hour and a half long phone call and after that I was like, ‘This is awesome, we totally connected.’”

A couple weeks after the phone call, she visited Pullman and fell in love with the program after getting to know the players, coaches and campus.

“The girls were so welcoming and just easy to be around. and the coaches showed so much faith in the future of this program and in me,” Stephens said.

With OSU interested in her simply as a walk-on player and the similar feel of Pullman and Corvallis on her mind, Stephens made the decision to become a Coug.

One thing fans may notice when watching Stephens play is her unique, powerful serve; a serve that developed because of her stature when she began playing.

“I was really little when I was younger,” she said. “So I could get the ball over by standing and serving, but my dad and I found it easier that jump serving got me higher, so I could have more momentum to get the ball over.”

Stephens and the rest of the Cougar volleyball team finish up the Cougar Invitational tonight in Bohler Gym against Nevada at 7 p.m.