RANTOUL — Tanaya Young could specialize in her high school sports career.The Rantoul Class of 2021 student-athlete has the sort of track and field prowess that is generating Division I looks.
To that point, she could merely focus on long jumping and sprinting.
They’re two ventures in which Young qualified for the Class 2A girls’ state meet as a 2019 sophomore, ultimately ranking third in the long jump.
So why is Young planning to take the hardwood for Eagles volleyball this fall, should the COVID-19 pandemic permit it?
Simple. She enjoys being a multi-faceted competitor, also involved with Rantoul girls’ basketball.
“It’s a really fun sport to play, and I like it,” Young said of volleyball. “It’s just a great way to build (relationships) with other girls.”
LaKimya Wade has to be glad Young feels that way.
The Eagles’ volleyball leader is graduating six seniors from her 2019 roster, including powerful hitter MyeJoi Williams and libero Lexi Sherrick.
Wade will need Young’s natural athleticism at outside hitter now more than ever.
“I love it,” Wade said. “At Rantoul Township High School, the fact that ... they encourage (kids) to do different sports (is great). It works on different parts of your body, and the focus for volleyball is helping you maintain that stamina.”
Wade was Rantoul volleyball’s first-year coach last season. Even surrounded by talented teammates like Williams, Sherrick, senior-to-be Kianna Berlatsky and junior-to-be Delaney Fullenkamp, Young still found ways to stand out and impress her new mentor.
“Her track and field exploits have definitely improved her volleyball game, by far,” Wade said. “Being able to jump high and being able to move quickly are all things that are important.
“She’s usually above the net when she swings, which is awesome. It’s usually intimidating when we’re going through the hitting line in warmups.”
Young acknowledged both her long jumping and sprinting abilities aid her in volleyball. But she’s also found other ways to up her on-court presence over her first three years with the Eagles.
“I became a stronger hitter. My passing’s improved a lot,” Young said. “My freshman year, I only played front row. Sophomore year, I think, that’s when I transitioned into playing all around.”
If there’s an area Young wants to see more improvement in as a senior volleyballer, it’s attitude.
She seeks to remain an uplifting presence for a program losing numerous upperclassmen and make sure she doesn’t “get in my head after a mistake.”
More music to Wade’s ears.
“It’s huge,” the coach said. “There are so many different ways the younger groups look up to the senior players and the junior players. It’s surprising.
“We wrote letters last year (about) what the young group wanted to see out of the seniors and juniors and vice versa. And it was crazy how they were telling them, ‘Hey, when you have a bad attitude that really makes me think of this.’ Just little things like, wow, every little thing you do can impact someone.”
Young, of course, has achieved quite a few bigger things in the name of Rantoul sports.
Her 10th-grade track and field campaign included many of those moments.
Young was solid as a freshman, too, qualifying for the end-of-season meet at Eastern Illinois University’s O’Brien Stadium in the 2A long jump.
She recorded a top distance of 16 feet, 3 inches. Not quite good enough to advance to the finals.
Fast forward to the 2019 2A Unity Sectional and Young was hitting the sand at 18-31 / 4. It was a mark that broke the host facility record — and that Young declared “wasn’t even my best.”
The 5-foot-8 Young proved as much at the following week’s 2A state preliminaries with the leading distance at 18-101 / 2.
That doesn’t even mention her helping the Eagles’ 400-meter relay to a finals spot of its own, in addition to racing alone in the 100 dash.
In the next day’s long jump finals, disaster struck when Young tweaked her left knee on the first of three attempts.
She settled for third place with that 18-101 / 2 leap, paired with a fifth-place showing in the 400 relay.
“I had memories pop up on Facebook (on Monday) of state last year,” Young said. “It prepared me to come out ranked number one in long jump (this season).”
She suited up for a couple indoor showcases prior to the ongoing pandemic putting a stop to IHSA spring activities.Though her knee still was a bit balky, Young notched a 17-9 long jump in the second meet.
The outcome left her a bit frustrated, though not nearly as much as she would be when told she and her teammates had to stop practicing and competing because of COVID-19.
“It’s been pretty stressful,” Young said. “Our next meet was supposed to be my birthday. We had found out two days before or a day before we couldn’t compete.
“I woke up on my birthday thinking, ‘Dang, we would’ve had a meet today.’ But it’s been pretty hard not being able to do what I love.”
When she wasn’t doing classwork online, Young was getting out to the high school track as often as possible — “just to get my mind off things and work out.” She recently began a job at County Market as well.
A main source of emotion for Young associated with her present situation is realizing how critical the incompletion of her junior track and field stint may’ve been to her future.
“This is the year when I really get looked at by colleges,” Young said, “and now, the only thing that goes through my head is, ‘OK, what am I going to do about college? What am I going to do about a scholarship? How am I going to get looked at?’
“I’m going to have to go through senior year and then possibly get looked at.”
The good news for Young is her earlier results have piqued interest at the highest level.
Young said Division I track and field programs at North Carolina, Minnesota, Texas and Boston University have reached out to her.
“It’s been exciting,” Young said, “knowing bigger, farther schools have noticed me.”
Their coaches are no doubt intrigued by Young accomplishing what she has while also playing volleyball and basketball.
Those may not be Young’s feature sports, but she’s learned to appreciate them even more these days.
“It doesn’t even have to be a winning (volleyball) season — I just want to have a great season with my team,” Young said. “I actually miss competing with that team.”
Anything to get some big-time, out-of-state eyes on the Eagles.
“(What I’ve done athletically) shows even people from little towns or places that a lot of people think go unnoticed,” Young said, “can do big things.”