By Walter Villa
Last Saturday’s Class 4A state final was the last big event in Mackenzie Mayo’s senior year.
For Mayo, there will be no prom, no field trip and no lavish graduation-day ceremony.
Mayo, a 5-foot-5 libero for two-time state champion Lake Travis (Austin, Texas), recently signed with Baylor and will enroll in January, bypassing the end-of-the-school-year festivities that many Americans have enjoyed for generations.
But Mayo is comfortable being different.
“I’m not much of a high school person,” she said. “Homecoming is not really my thing. I’ve always been ready for college.
“A lot of people told me to slow down. … I know it’s a big decision, but I also know I won’t regret it.”
While still among the vast minority, Mayo is nonetheless among a growing number of elite volleyball players who are graduating early.
Among the class of 2012 standouts who have made a decision similar to Mayo’s are Penn State recruit Paulina Prieto of Palmer Trinity (Palmetto Bay, Fla.), Nebraska’s Lauren Sieckmann of Elkhorn South (Elkhorn, Neb.), Baylor’s Amy Rosenbaum of Copperas Cove (Copperas Cove, Texas), and Boston College’s Cassidy Vaughn of Bowie (Austin, Texas).
Over the past couple years, several other stars graduated early, including Nebraska’s Lara Dykstra and Morgan Broekhuis, Washington’s Summer Ross, Cal’s Lauren Loerch and Texas’ Bailey Webster, Madelyn Hutson and Hannah Allison.
Baylor is a prime example of the growing trend. Coach Jim Barnes said he had never had a January recruit until now, when four of his seven newcomers are set to arrive in less than two months.
But Barnes, in his eighth year at Baylor, said it takes a special person to make the early transition.
“Our sport tends to have very good students,” he said. “Some of these girls are so advanced academically that for them to go back to high school would be almost like wasting a spring (semester).
“Coming in early allows them the chance to get their degrees and then their master’s on the back end (of the scholarship). Parents really like that. It’s a big part of the sell.”
Barnes considers the arrangement a win-win. His team loses six seniors this season, and bringing in four newcomers early will help them contribute quicker.
Usually, Barnes said, newcomers aren’t ready for major playing time until their sophomore years. But by coming in early, it gives them a much better chance.
The maturity level of players is another factor. Barnes believes the experience girls are getting in club ball helps.
“Many of these girls are traveling every weekend during club season,” Barnes said. “They learn how to manage their time, much like they must do in college.”
Still, graduating early is not for everyone. Amy Neal, one of Mayo’s Lake Travis teammates, said she never considered leaving early.
“I love my high school so much,” Neal said. “I want to get to experience my senior year fully. It’s such a fun year, and I think it’s important to enjoy it with your closest friends.”
Neal said she was heartbroken when Mayo told her she was leaving early.
“We’ve been playing together since age 13,” Neal said. “I understand her wanting to get a head start, and I know she’s excited. But I was pretty sad when she told me. I wanted to play one more year of club ball with her.”
But for the girls who are leaving early, one more year of club ball just wasn’t enough to get them to stay.
Sieckmann felt so strongly about her decision that she transferred out of Marian (Omaha, Neb.), which does not allow for early graduation, and played her final season at Elkhorn South.
“I’ve always wanted to be at the next thing,” Sieckmann said. “College is the next thing for me.”
Prieto, who is heading to Penn State, got the idea to graduate early during her recruiting trip to Texas. Once she did her research, she was determined to follow that path and would have transferred from Palmer Trinity if they did not allow her to graduate early.
“It sounded like a good idea,” Prieto said. “It made more sense than just playing another summer of club ball. I knew that if I waited to start Penn State in July, it would be a short adjustment period.”
Prieto said she will go to prom and graduation if she is available. But it is unlikely she will be free since seniors at Palmer graduate at the same time Penn State has finals.
Will she regret missing out on prom and graduation?
“I’ve spent so much time on volleyball that I’m used to missing dances and parties and things like that,” she said. “Maybe when prom comes I will get those feelings of ‘Oh I’m going to miss that.’ But I have more important goals.”
Rosenbaum, who will join Mayo at Baylor in January, said there is no way she is missing graduation day but is not certain yet about prom.
“That is a milestone in my life,” she said, referring to graduation. “Walking across that stage with my class will be a good feeling.
“I went to prom last year, and it was fun. Maybe once it gets closer to prom, I will want to go. But I think I will be caught up in college.”
Vaughn, who is going to Boston College, said the only negative for her was cramming in the extra classes she needed to graduate, which took away the little free time she had left.
Vaughn also said she met some resistance from people who urged her to stay the full senior year.
“People said that senior year is a great time to goof off, but that just sounds dumb,” Vaughn said. “Why stick around to be unproductive?”