As a senior at San Gabriel High this season, 17-year-old Rachel Norris would have been one of the top college basketball prospects in the Southland.
A dominating player at 6-4 and 180 pounds, Norris had earned All-San Gabriel Valley honors and was an honorable mention All-American in the last two seasons.
But Norris will not be playing basketball this season and probably won’t in the future.
She has decided to focus her athletic skills on volleyball, in which she has also found a lot of success.
Norris, an imposing middle blocker, led San Gabriel to the CIF state Division II championship Dec. 5 and was named CIF Southern Section 3-A player of the year. She was also recently named to the high school All-American team by Volleyball Monthly magazine.
Despite scheduling conflicts, Norris played well in both sports during her junior year. However, facing a more intensive schedule as a member of the San Gabriel Volleyball Club team this season, Norris said she was forced to choose between the sports.
“Last year there was only a small conflict,” she said. “This year it would have required me to go from one practice to the other and it wouldn’t have left me time to do my schoolwork and other activities, so I decided to choose one or the other.”
It was not a difficult decision. Basketball was a distant second.
“She gave it a lot of thought,” said Rachel’s mother, Elana. “But it really wasn’t too hard. She just loves volleyball.”
Norris said she had all but decided by the time the Southern Section championships were played in November.
“By that time I kind of knew I wasn’t going to play basketball,” she said. “I didn’t just decide overnight. It built up and built up. I finally told the (basketball) coach about a week before Christmas vacation.”
She said merely reminding herself about the pounding she had absorbed on the basketball court over the last three seasons made the decision easier.
There were nagging injuries that included a knee problem as a freshman, three ankle sprains and a back ailment. Not to mention the pushing and shoving while being double- and triple-teamed. “It was a lot of things and it all added up,” Norris said.
It reached the point where she dreaded practice and games.
“Basketball was just getting frustrating,” she said. “I was getting beat up all the time. Night after night I would go home and cry over getting pushed around so much. I just decided that it wasn’t worth it.”
Without basketball to worry about, Norris says she has been able to concentrate more on other aspects of school. Norris, selected her school’s outstanding junior of the year, has about a 3.8 grade-point average and has stayed active in student government.
She also was named homecoming queen the day before the Matadors won the 3-A title in November. “It was really exciting,” Norris recalls. “Everything seemed to happen at once.
“I like to stay active in as many things as possible.”
But basketball does not figure to be part of it.
“It’s pretty much over,” she said. “I don’t like playing basketball, and volleyball is something I love. To do well in a sport you have to love it.”
Norris has played volleyball in earnest for only three years.
After making her all-league team as a junior, she played club volleyball for the first time after last season and says it has made a considerable difference in her performance.
“Playing club helped me this season,” she said. “Plus our volleyball team (at San Gabriel) was easy to play with. Everybody got along and that made it easier for me to concentrate on my skills and improvement. Coach (Larry) Kanow has also helped. He always told us there is no limit on your skills, and he never placed a limit on my skills.”
Norris said that she has improved steadily but there is still plenty of room for improvement.
“I don’t even know if I’m halfway there,” she said. “I have to work on jumping and refining my skills. But it’s something I look forward to--not like basketball. I feel like I’m getting better and better every time I go out on the court.”
Perhaps it is that consistent improvement that has made Norris one of the top volleyball prospects in the nation.
Among colleges trying to recruit her are UCLA, Pacific, UC Berkeley, Long Beach State and San Diego State. Norris says she will probably not make a decision until close to the Feb. 10 NCAA signing date for national letters of intent, although she wants to stay close to home.
“We’re a close family and they like to see me play,” she said. “That’s one of the main reasons I want to stay in California. It’s also nice to be able to come home when you feel like it.”
Apparently there are college recruiters who don’t know that she has given up basketball.
“I’m still getting some letters from colleges. I guess they just don’t know.”
Norris says there are also school officials who are disappointed that she is not playing basketball. “But that’s my decision and people have to accept it,” she said.
For Norris, her thoughts are focused squarely on volleyball. Basketball is just a memory.