COLUMBIA — Hearnes Center was quiet and the volleyball court dimly lit Wednesday afternoon. Lydia Ely, a middle blocker for Missouri, rested with her legs stretched out on the east side of the floor waiting for practice to begin.
“Now, since the season has started, I’ve been in twice maybe,” Ely said. “At first it was difficult (to not play), but I know now that I am a freshman, and I need to keep remembering that. But I wouldn’t change the lineup. The best lineup is out there right now, and I’m really proud of all the girls.”
Missouri (12-4, 4-2 SEC) at Tennessee (9-5, 2-3 SEC)
WHEN: 6 p.m.
WHERE: Knoxville, Tenn.
Missouri (12-4, 4-2 SEC) at Alabama (13-5, 2-4 SEC)
WHEN: 1:30 p.m.
WHERE: Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The Tigers are 12-4 this season and 4-2 so far in their first year in the Southeastern Conference heading into Friday's 6 p.m. match at Tennessee. Missouri beat the Volunteers 3-2 in its SEC opener on Sept. 12.
With two-time SEC Defensive Player of Week Whitney Little starting at middle blocker, Ely is using her time to learn from Little, a sophomore.
Ely, a St. Louis native from Rosati-Kain High School, was ranked the No. 4 top recruit in the state by ESPN and played for St. Louis High Performance along with fellow Tigers freshman Regan Peltier.
“My first impression of Lydia was in eighth grade, and I’m like dang that girl is tall,” said Peltier about Ely, who is listed at 6 feet, 6 inches tall on the Missouri roster.
Now as a college student and athlete, Ely has learned how to manage her time and knows that in order to play for a team like Missouri she must show that she is the best.
“Volleyball has always basically been my life,” Ely said. “My last year at home really prepared me to deal with this year.”
During her senior year of high school, Ely coached two youth volleyball teams and worked out every day besides playing on her high school and club teams. Along with volleyball, Ely volunteered at Ranken Jordan, a pediatric specialty hospital in Maryland Heights, during her junior and senior years and says it was one of the best experiences of her life.
“I always thought that I was going to go there to help the kids’ lives,” Ely said. “But I would leave Ranken Jordan so happy, just seeing those smiles on the kids’ faces. It really helped me grow as a person.”
After volunteering at Ranken Jordon, Ely says she is more appreciative of her family and all of things she has in her life. Ely, a physical therapy major at MU, said she thought she wanted to work with athletes after she graduated, but if she could get a job at Ranken Jordan instead, she would take it in a heartbeat.
As a volunteer at Ranken Jordan, Ely played with the children in the hospital during their break times and tried to take their minds off of the health issues they faced. She said one of her most memorable experiences was working with a boy who had been feeling particularly bad.
“I had been working with him all day, and he was just in a really bad mood,” Ely said. “I remember before I left, he was sitting on my lap, and he was like ‘Lydia don’t leave,’ and just seeing his expression really impacted me.”
Ely has also volunteered at a food kitchen and cleaned a park with her high school volleyball team. She plans on finding other volunteer opportunities in Columbia during the off-season. Ely said volunteering at Ranken Jordan was a life-changing experience and plans on going back during winter break.
“I just loved it,” Ely said. “It was an awesome experience, and everyone who works there is so blessed. They're changing so many peoples lives.”
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.