A couple of things will stand out immediately to fans of the Oklahoma volleyball team who visit McCasland Field House this fall. First will be all the fresh faces, nine to be exact, that have flooded the program with talent. A likely second is one of those young talents soaring above her teammates, and more importantly the opposition for a kill.
"The other day she hit over (as in above) a block by Sheena (Werling)," remarked gitty assistant coach Josh Ivans. "Sheena's been the biggest jumper on this squad for two years and Laura (Tomes) leaped over her block like it was second nature."
Tomes is the most highly touted recruit of the Mahi era and stories of her athletic ability are circulating around Norman. When OU head coach Kalani Mahi received the commitment from the Sioux City East product, the first words out of his mouth were, "She's got springs."
Call that an understatement.
Lisa Leslie dunked a basketball one-handed in a WNBA game a year back and it was ground breaking. Tomes dunked a volleyball one-handed as a junior in high school and word traveled from Iowa all the way down to Norman.
"We were scrimmaging in club and my coaches were trying to train my setter," explained Tomes. "Coach wanted my setter to learn that she wasn't going to set it to0 high for me. The coach stopped practice and ordered me to dunk a volleyball. After a couple of tries I was able to do it. The exercise helped build trust in my jumping ability with the setter."
Has she done it since teaching her setter a lesson?
"Sure, its no big deal," says the Sooner middle hitter.
The story behind her leaping ability is as unlikely as it is intriguing.
"My leaping ability came from my background in figure skating," said the 6-2 middle blocker, who doesn't fit the stereotypical image of a diminutive figure skater.
"Between the ages of three and fourteen I trained to be a figure skater," recalled Tomes who was nearing the national elite level. "When I was 12 my family was told that we would have to move from Fargo, North Dakota, to a bigger city if I wanted to receive coaching that would help me progress. My family and I didn't want to move to Chicago, Los Angeles or New York. So we stayed. I wasn't improving after a year and that's when I switched to volleyball."
"I enjoyed it (figure skating) a lot but as I grew taller the sport became tougher. I took pride in accomplishing feats as a skater that people believed weren't supposed to be done by taller skaters."
The coaches are confident in Tomes' mix of speed, blocking and leaping ability at the middle hitter position and believe she will help make up for the lack of depth at the position. During Tomes high school career she received numerous individual and team accolades. As a senior, Tomes was named to Volleyball Magazine's FAB 50 and Top 100. Tomes was also named All-State, all-conference, all-district and all-metro during her senior season.
Other than excelling at volleyball in high school, Tomes also lettered in track and field, basketball, and figure skating. She was a two-time Iowa state high jump champion (2001, 2003), while also finishing as runner-up in the state long jump finals this spring.
Of all the newcomers on the OU squad, one would guess that Tomes was the most likely to have a flawless transition to collegiate athletics but she's been surprised by the busy schedule.
"Since practices began it's been very busy," said Tomes. "Our schedules every day have us on the move constantly. Every day we had two-a-days, along with weight training or swim training and the ever present icing of our muscles. It's been a lot tougher than I expected. I'm enjoying it, but it has been high pressure and high intensity."
Despite the numerous accolades Tomes received as a prep athlete, she was still nervous about living up to the expectations of the team and herself.
"Coming in I was really afraid of letting everyone down and not living up to expectations," said Tomes. :I worked out in the weight room all spring and summer so that I would be ready to compete."
She has quickly bonded with another freshman, Joanna Schmitt, who will see significant time this fall. Schmitt has established herself as the biggest hitter on the OU squad and will go through many of the same rookie trials as the Tomes.
"Joanna and I are going through a similar situation and we can feed off of each other," said Tomes. "The team and coaches have been great too. It's probably been hard for them to adjust to a team made up of so many freshman and newcomers, but they have been great mentors. The coaching staff is constantly giving feedback, so you never feel like you're in the dark."
Does she think the transition will pay off with a successful season in the rugged Big 12?
"I've seen a lot of the teams in the Big 12 and I really like our squad," said Tomes. "We have great chemistry and that will help us on the court. We really have a lot of fun."
The wide-eyed glare of a typical freshman is finally wearing off Tomes' face and anxiety is setting in.She doesn't have to wait long as the Sooners departed for Washington State and the Cougar Classic today (Aug. 28)
"I am excited about the season and I am ready to go," said Tomes.