COLUMBIA — Her new coach asked if she'd ever played before.
"I don't even understand volleyball," Trinity Ojo said. "But I can figure it out."
And she did.
Ojo, then a junior, had just transferred to Grace Preparatory Academy in Arlington, Texas. She had a new family, a new school, a new sport, and a new outlook on her future. Now, at age 25, she's a senior at Columbia College, set to graduate in December and leading the team with 173 kills this season.
She adds to that total Saturday, although unofficially. The current Cougars lost a Family Day match (2-1) against Columbia head coach Melinda Wrye-Washington and alumni including Columbia College assistant coach Paula Ferreira and Stephens College head coach Rose Obunaga.
Today, Ojo guides the team from her post at the middle of the net.
But success didn't come immediately, especially not that first year at Grace Prep.
"In a game, I blocked a serve, not realizing that wasn't allowed," she said.
She had been a basketball player even before she was adopted by Joan Sayers and Emma Colquitt, whom she credits as her support system. When they decided Ojo would be better off in a private rather than public school, they found that her chances of getting in would improve if the 6-feet-3-inch Ojo would play volleyball. Colquitt had played basketball in college, and Ojoc played club basketball, but Sayers watched Ojo play volleyball and realized it was becoming Ojo's passion.
"She took to it like a sponge," Colquitt said.
She started competing for a starting spot that first year and started her senior year. Before her adoption at age 15, she hadn't been considering college. In the Sayers-Colquitt household, though, not going to college wasn't an option. And when Division I coaches started showing up at Ojo's games, she realized she could be good enough to earn a scholarship.
She played a semester at Missouri, which turned out to be too big of a school for her. She went home for a semester at the University of Texas at Arlington and had almost two years off before coming to Columbia College. So she wasn't in shape for her first year with the Cougars.
"I was so upset because I wanted to play so bad, but I was not good at all at that point," she said. "Coach decided to put me in at nationals, and I just lost it. I hit the back of the bleachers on the very top, and I'll never forget that, because every year ... I think I never want to do that again. So it feels good to have a lot of kills and stuff like that, but it also feels good to feel like I'm helping our team."
Ferreira was a sophomore at Columbia College when Ojo arrived, and she set for Ojo's solo tryout. She saw a tall player with a lot of work to do — work, Ferreira said, that Ojo has increasingly taken on with gumption.
"Today, when I see her playing, it's like a completely different player," Ferreira said. "It's good to see how a player can change when they change their mentality: They can be the best player on the court."
Columbia's environment, with close oversight by the coaching staff and what Sayers describes as a family feel, turned out to be the right fit for Ojo.
"It's helped allow me to grow, not only athletically, but as a person, and kind of get rid of a lot of insecurities and immaturity that I came in with," she said.
Sayers and Colquitt say the difference is night and day between the young lady who went to Columbia College and the one about to graduate.
Now that she sees a future for herself, she's deciding what she wants to do with it: work in entertainment marketing, and also help kids like her who may not realize that they, too, have potential for their futures.