So far, Columbus High School senior Shardonee’ Hayes hasn’t met a challenge she couldn’t eventually master. In a few weeks, Hayes will sign on the dotted line, confirming her verbal commitment to the University of Arizona to play volleyball for the Wildcats. The road to Tucson may have been bumpy at times, but Hayes’ maturity and steady resolve made the journey possible.
In order to understand the excitement surrounding Hayes’ signing with a Division I school in the Pacific-12 (Pac-12) Conference, it should be noted that the talented athlete only began playing volleyball four years ago. Although she had been a member of a middle school team prior to her coming to Columbus High, Hayes did not see real playing time until she was a freshman at CHS.
Standing 6’3” when barefoot, the 17-year-old has almost always been taller than her peers. She gravitated toward playing basketball because of her height, but the engaging and outgoing young woman quickly acknowledges her heart was not in the game.
“I played basketball, but I didn’t really like it. I guess in some ways I kind of got pushed to it because I was tall. When I was going to be a freshman at Columbus, at the volleyball tryout day, the JV tryout day, I fell in love with volleyball,” Hayes says with a smile.
It may have been love at first sight, but Hayes’ relationship with volleyball required a lot of work. She made the junior varsity team but quickly realized she was woefully behind with the sport. Every other athlete on her team had skills developed by serious training and hours of court experience.
Hayes is something of a maverick when it comes to her life. She specifically chose to attend Columbus High School for two reasons. The first was the academic structure the school is known for, and the second was to separate herself from most of the people she had grown close to in middle school.
“I had narrowed it down to two high schools. Most of my friends chose one school. I decided I needed some new experiences. It’s kind of hard to explain, but I liked the challenge of starting over,” she says.
That unusual and perceptive decision brought Hayes directly to the door of Columbus head volleyball coach Donna Fleming. Hayes was testing the waters again for something different when she showed up at the JV volleyball tryouts. Fleming, who has a reputation for a successful volleyball program, recognized potential in the inexperienced freshman.
“She has really grown into herself. She worked hard. She has tremendous work ethic. She has been fortunate to be surrounded by very talented players. It is very exciting to see her get to this point,” says Fleming.
In addition to that maverick spirit, Hayes also possesses a hard-driving competitive streak. Feeling the challenge of playing with more experienced players, she spent hours in the gym on her own time working on her game.
Hayes quickly advanced. She played JV her freshman year, but was a starter in the middle position on the varsity team by her sophomore season. The Lady Blue Devils captured the state championship in 2013. And Hayes played every single game along the way.
Today’s serious high school athletes often take private lessons or play on traveling teams to enhance skills and gain exposure. Hayes has been a member of a volleyball club in Atlanta for several years. She keeps up an exhausting schedule of playing volleyball almost year-round. During her club season, she will spend three nights a week on the road between home and the Atlanta area. It is a challenge, yet Hayes manages to keep up with the rigorous academic requirements at Columbus, maintaining an impressive 3.85 grade point average.
Her efforts paid off her sophomore year when she began to garner attention from colleges and universities that sent representatives to volleyball club events. Eventually, she came on the radar of Coach Dave Rubio of the University of Arizona. Last year, Hayes flew to Tucson to visit the campus and check out the Wildcats’ volleyball program.
“From the first conversation, I felt comfortable. It was just comfortable. When I went out there, I loved everything about it, and everyone made me feel like I was part of a family,” says Hayes.
During her junior year, Hayes verbally committed to Arizona. It was a banner year for her. She was named to the Class AAAAA All-State and 3-AAAAA All-Area teams. She recorded 68 blocks, 29 aces, 451 kills, and 84 digs. She was also named to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer’s 2014 B-City Volleyball Team.
The only thing missing from the season was another state championship. The Blue Devils ran all the way up to the playoffs, but came up short in the end. Being state runner-up is no small accomplishment, but Hayes is really looking for a chance to help her team claim the victor’s trophy this season.
With her decision about college squared away, Hayes can focus on enjoying her senior year and playing volleyball for the sport. Her plans to head to the Southwest near completion, Hayes acknowledges the journey wouldn’t have been possible if it had not been for those who assisted her along the way. She cites her mother, teammates, and a few others who have been in her corner. One person in particular holds a special place in her heart.
“Coach Fleming. She has done so much. She is the one who helped me get on the Atlanta team. She has been there through so many of the struggles and challenges. She was very patient with me as she instructed me in the game,” says Hayes.
Stopping for a minute to gather her thoughts, she offers up another thought.
“She saw something in me.”
Columbus Valley/Player Spotlight female/October 2015
Columbus High School
By Beth Welch
Photos by Jerry Christenson