SEWANEE, Tenn. — Kayla Sewell apparently thinks she's at a Class A high school instead of a university with some of the most demanding academic requirements in the nation.
Then again, she merely is continuing to do at the University of the South what she did at her Class AAA high school, Walker Valley.
The 6-foot Sewanee sophomore is playing three sports at a high level while continuing to hold up her grades, although she frets about the latter.
She also has work-study obligations with her need-based financial aid.
Sewell has a 2.9 grade point average instead of the 3.9 she had in high school and is determined to pull it up, but dropping a sport is not an option.
"I hate quitting things, and I love all three sports," she said. "I started in T-ball when I was 4 years old, and I've played softball ever since then. I started playing on basketball teams in the fifth grade, but it was halfway through my freshman year when I started playing volleyball.
"Last year I had a week after softball before school was out, and I about went crazy. I didn't know what to do with myself."
The only player on this year's Sewanee women's basketball team with significant experience, Sewell has blocked nine shots in the Tigers' two games. Tuesday in their second win, she led the team with 14 points, five blocks and five steals and had nine rebounds.
Coach Dickie McCarthy felt she should have been the defensive player of the year last season in Sewanee's former league, the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, and coaches in the eastern part of the SCAC understood his reasoning all too well. They must continue to face her in the Southern Athletic Association.
As it was, as a freshman she led the league in field-goal percentage and blocked shots, averaged 9.7 rebounds a game and received all-conference honorable mention. In addition to her shot-blocking and altering, Sewell ranked higher in steals than the Millsaps guard voted defensive player of the year, and she was higher in three statistical categories than a first-team forward from Colorado College.
That was coming off a volleyball debut when Sewell paced Sewanee's best team in years in blocks, digs and attack percentage and was second in kills.
In softball the high school first baseman moved to shortstop and led the SCAC with a .473 batting average, a .519 on-base percentage and a .824 slugging percentage and also paced the Tigers with 35 hits, five home runs, nine doubles, 25 RBIs and 61 total bases. She again earned All-SCAC honorable mention.
Three days before starting basketball practice this month, Sewell finished an All-SAA second-team volleyball season in which she led Sewanee in solo blocks and was second in kills, digs and total blocks. In the first year with Shawna Laurendine as coach, the Tigers went 14-11, adding six wins to their jump to eight in 2011.
"Kayla is just a great athlete, period," McCarthy said. "I think she's the kind of kid who could take up golf or tennis and pick it up in a short time. And certainly track and field. Even at her size, she can run like a deer.
"She is a very rare get for Sewanee. We don't normally get a physical specimen like she is."
Yet he almost let her get away without realizing it.
A staunch University of Tennessee fan who hopes to go there for law school, Sewell opened her mind as a 12th-grader to other schools where she realistically could play sports and get a good education. Sewanee was one of those. She filled out an online interest form while basketball season was in progress, and McCarthy didn't see it right away.
Several weeks later, while sorting through old emails, he saw Sewell's form and Googled her name. His eyes widened at the credentials for the three-sport Best of Preps honoree, and he immediately told his assistant, Amber Gilliam, to contact Sewell. The Sewanee interest heightened when she told Gilliam that she would like to visit the Mountain but was into softball season and didn't know when she could.
Gilliam is the Sewanee softball coach.
"We went and saw her play, and the first time we saw her bat she lined a shot off the fence," Gilliam recalled. "She just towered over everybody.
"When we put her at shortstop, she said, 'I'll try,' and she excelled, I thought."
Sewell wasn't as convinced about her adjustment. In fact, Gilliam and McCarthy said, the only problem they have with her is that "she's very, very hard on herself."
They have changed the basketball offense to feature her in a high post instead of on the block, "and she picked up the new system in a week and a half," McCarthy said. "She has a tremendous basketball IQ."
Although she has a nice shooting touch, she still is developing her offensive skills, but "she's an incredible defensive player," McCarthy said. "She's the best defensive player I have ever coached. I've never had a player affect games like Kayla Sewell."
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