By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Swan as a verb means to move about or go somewhere in a casual, relaxed way, typically perceived as irresponsible or ostentatious by others.
And swan as a noun is a beautiful bird that in folklore has matured from a duckling. Millington Central High School senior Elizabeth Woodard could be called a swan on the volleyball court.
Four years ago she entered the Lady Trojans Volleyball program and the Memphis Metro organization ran by Jitka Okolicany with raw talent and standing taller than most of her peers.
Over the years Woodard grew into a leader on the Trojans team leading them to two District 14-3A Tournament game wins and was a part of national teams each season earning fifth one season.
All her hard work and dedcation landed Woodard a scholarship to play at West Alabama. And on Apri 17 friends and family gathered to celebrate and marvel at Woodard’s growth into an NCAA-caliber player. But for the 6’2 Woodard, the challenge given by her father, Bill, gave her the motivation she needed in the beginning.
“My Dad thought I would never get this far,” Woodard recalled. “He told me as a freshman the little twig that I was, he didn’t expected me to make it this far. With all the money it takes, he never thought I would take it this far. He’s proud I proved him wrong.”
Elizabeth’s parents, Bill and Laura, supported their daughter’s dream financially, emotionally and with their time. Bill said the investment is paying off.
“Just letting go of her,” he acknowledged. “We’ve been standing over her and supporting her. She’ll be 300 miles away. So hopefully we’ve given her the background to be ready. I think the carrot will be the volleyball. She knows she had to do well in school in order to play. And she loves the sport.
“We sacrificed with the travel and time,” Bill added. “But everybody believed in her. We held her to high standards and she maintained them.”
Woodard played under head coaches Savannah Aime and Laura Drumm and helped their teams reach new standards each year. Woodard used several of the lessons taught by Ololicany to help her varsity teammates. Ololicany said Woodard’s time on the court in high school and metro games helped her mature in all phases of the game.
“Elizabeth has everything going for her in the case of playing volleyball,” she said. “It is an advantage to be taller than everyone else. So when she came to us when she was 13 years old, we knew she had a bright future ahead of her. She’s a hard worker. Every year she was on the elite team, the strongest team we have. Her hard work and dedication and disciplined paid off.”
Ololicany said now West Alabama will benefit from the skills and leadership of Woodard.
“She has what it takes,” she said. “She’s ready. She’s going to change that program at West Alabama, discipline and ability to focus, her way of practing and her dedication in practice.
“She’s prepared not only as an athlete but as a student,” Ololicany added. “You structure your day and there’s no time for idle time. You are always doing something. The biggest lesson she’s learned, if you want to be truly great you have to do more than other people. That’s why she’s successful. She did more than other people.”
Elizabeth’s biggest cheerleader driving her to be successful was her mother. Laura said it was her privilege to be there by her daughter’s side and supporting her dream.
“Spending countless hours of training, traveling, blood, sweat, tears and bruises,” she said, “her hard work and dedication to herself, her family, her teammates, coaches and teachers has finally paid off. Today was like she just received a first paycheck for a job well done — well deserved.”
Laura moved around the MCHS Library with a big smile and as if she was floating. Elizabeth’s signing day was her dream come true for her daughter.
“I really appreciate it Mom,” Elizabeth said. “All of this is going to pay off for her too.”
Laura said the signing means the world to her and helps secure Elizabeth’s future after years of hard work.
“We credit Metro with the training, then her hard work and dedication to the sport for this day. I think it really helped her to develop into who she is,” she said. “Metro is the best platform. How does one put into words that it feels like we won the lottery, but earned every cent on the way.
“Elizabeth loves volleyball and I’m ecstatic that she gets to use her love of this game to obtain her goal of a college education,” Laura added. “Volleyball is a team sport and has served up some life lessons she may not have grasped during her high school years otherwise — responsibility, accountability, discipline, character and loyalty on the court and off just to mention a few.”
Elizabeth acknowledged volleyball’s impact has shaped her development the last four years.
“It’s meant a lot to me,” she said. “You know everyone has that talent, something they’re good at and love. I was blessed to have found volleyball. I had that drive and talent. And over the last four years, I’ve dedicated and made volleyball my life.
“It is my life,” Elizabeth added. “When I look back on my high school years, I will first think about all my volleyball trips, my teammates and the games.”
Bill said he’s proud his daughter will be a college volleyball player. At times it was shaky but he noted Elizabeth kept trying to spread her wings until she reach her goal.
“She had dreams of going to a Division I school and wanted to be a superstar,” Bill concluded. “But I think she’s going to a good program. Going to a smaller school in the Gulf South Conference, I’m hoping she’ll be a big fish in a smaller pond.”