Leah Shaw has a habit of playing on the big stage when it comes to her volleyball career.
She made "State in 08" with the Princeton Tigresses, bringing home a fourth-place finish her senior year.
The next stop came at Illinois Central College, where she won the National Juco Championship with the Cougars in 2009, during her freshman season.
Now she's on a trip to the top of the collegiate volleyball ranks as is a member of the Bowling Green Falcons, who are to embark on their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1991.
It's almost more than a kid growing up in Princeton, Ill. could ever dream of. Each experience is special in its own way for Shaw.
"I'm extremely lucky being able to be a part of so many great experiences. I've met some really special people along the way and many of those experiences wouldn't have happened without being exposed to so many great friends, coaches and teammates and of course my family," Shaw told me via email from Bowling Green Tuesday. "Going to the NCAA certainly ranks pretty high, but it's hard to put those experiences in a rank since they were all so different. I get just as excited thinking about each experience."
The Falcons held an announcement party on campus Sunday afternoon awaiting word of their NCAA first-round draw, which would prove to be Yale. Shaw said the event was really special, with a lot of local fans, alumni and BGSU faculty showing support, as they have all season, "and it was great to have everyone together in a relaxed setting."
Yale's announcement made the Falcons think about putting their thinking caps on, looking for an intellectual challenge.
"We were joking about how we think Yale will have a high volleyball IQ, but it's true," Shaw said. "Every team we play from now on is a solid, competitive team and Yale is no different. They do a lot of things well, but we think we can match up well against them and play a competitive match."
Bowling Green (21-10) and Yale (18-5) will square off on the campus of Penn State in University Park, Pa. at 5 p.m. Friday. The winner of that match will play the winner of No. 1 seed Penn State vs. Binghamton at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
"We're all really excited to play. We've had focused practices this week and we can't wait to get to Penn State," Shaw said.
You can follow Shaw and the Falcons via the school's website at bgsufalcons.com. There will Twitter updates by following BGAthletics and @jknavel.
The Falcons enter the event having won 17 of their last 20 matches to improve to 21-10. Bowling Green went 13-3 in Mid-American Conference play during the regular season and was the No. 2 seed for the MAC Tournament. The Falcons beat No. 7 seed Eastern Michigan in straight sets in the MAC T quarterfinals before beating No. 3 seed Western Michigan in five sets in the semifinals. In the championship, BGSU beat No. 4 seed Northern Illinois.
"I don't think we felt surprised with winning the MAC. We knew what we were capable of this year, and we set winning the MAC and making a statement in the NCAA tournament a team goal early on this year," Shaw said. "We have a great group of players and coaching staff and everything just fell into place this season, so we feel more blessed as opposed to being surprised with our success," Shaw said.
Shaw, aka Big Red during her days at PHS, has played in all but one match for the Falcons this season The 6-foot senior middle has had her share of big moments, named as the MAC's Defensive Player of the Week in late September. Shaw tied a program record with 11 block assists in a four-set win over Buffalo and is ranked fifth in conference play in blocks. Overall, Shaw has tallied 181 kills, 111 blocks, 64 digs, 21 aces and 22 assists this season
It's great to follow kids like Leah, Luke Dobrich, Mike Suarez, Shawn Jeppson, Kailey Klein, just to name a few, here at home and see them go off to bigger and better things. Good luck, Leah. Princeton and Bureau County are pulling for you. Spike 'em, Leah!
Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR sports editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org