By Brian Paglia
Eagle's Landing Christian senior Lauren Teknipp usually has to negotiate to get her younger brother, Bill, a football player at Eagle's Landing, to play a friendly game of volleyball in the backyard.
"I'll say, 'Well, I'll play you in football,'" Lauren Teknipp said.
Teknipp's brother knows the embarassment he'll have to endure going up against his 6-foot-2 sister.
So do ELCA's opponents.
Since Teknipp's arrival from her hometown in Ohio, the Lady Chargers (26-11, 8-0 Area 3S-AA/A) have gone from a solid program into a serious state title threat.
They've been able to schedule matches against more prominent opponents, as evidenced by the 19 matches against ranked teams ELCA has played this season. They've played in tournaments featuring preminent volleyball programs from Florida, Tennessee and Louisiana. They won the program's first area championship last season. They've reached the No. 3 ranking in Class AA/A, the highest in program history.
It's no coincidence ELCA's rise to the next level coincided with Teknipp's arrival. She began playing volleyball at the age of 7 in a local church league in Ohio. By the age of 14, she was being recruited by Division I colleges.
But Teknipp's pedigree sets her apart. Besides her younger brother, Bill, the promising tight end at Eagle's Landing, her father, Phil, played football at West Virginia and briefly in the NFL. Her older brother, Jim, plays football at Troy University.
"Because she comes from a family of Division I athletes, she understands what it takes to compete at a high level," ELCA coach Jim Barlow said. "She works really hard out of season. She does a significant amount of working out in-season for that matter. She takes it so seriously."
Indeed, Teknipp credits her father for much of her development as a player. They work out together in a makeshift gym in the family's garage.
"My dad's been there 100 percent of the time," Teknipp said. "He inspires me. ... He's always on my side. Anything that goes wrong, he's there. I don't know what I would do without him."
The work has turned Teknipp into one of the nation's top players. In fact, Teknipp had to miss the early part of the season competing for the U.S. volleyball team in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore.
Teknipp made the team as an alternate, but she started and helped the U.S. win the silver medal. Teknipp had four blocks, three kills and one ace in the gold medal match against Belgium.
Flying 24 hours across the globe wasn't pleasant.
"It was the longest flight of my life," Teknipp said, "and I don't want to do that anytime soon."
But Teknipp relished the opportunity to play against the top competition in the world.
"International play is definitely way different," Teknipp said. "It's a lot more intense and fast-paced than just playing against other U.S. teams. It was a great experience, and going into college, I needed that kind of experience."
Teknipp committed to a volleyball scholarship to Michigan, returning her to the Midwestern roots that made moving to Georgia such a culture shock. She found people to be more pleasant (on and off the road) and life a little slower. Her peers listened to different music, watched different television shows and
Teknipp was the new kid, but she found refuge in her new team.
"I love all the girls," Teknipp said. "I've gotten real close with all of them. Playing volleyball and being on the team going into a new school definitely helped making friends."
Only one thing remains to accomplish for ELCA. After losing to Greater Atlanta Christian in the Class AA/A quarterfinals last season, the Lady Chargers expect nothing short of a state title.
But that will be difficult. Last season, Teknipp was unknown. She teamed with sophomore Mara Green to give the Lady Chargers two hitters over 6-feet with impressive athleticism that opponents didn't see coming.
Teams are keen to Teknipp's presence and ability now. They often double- and triple-team her at the net. With four or five days to prepare for an opponent, Barlow expects Teknipp will encounter triple teams throughout the playoffs.
Barlow says Teknipp just jumps over blocks. Teknipp says she adjusts.
And Teknipp says the team has adjusted now to being one of the favorites to win a state title.
"Ever since we did so well last year, we've kind of had a target on our back," Teknipp said. "Teams have kind of expected it, because last year they didn't know I existed. Now, this year they're ready for it.
"I definitely think we can go all the way and win state. That's what we're all expecting."