Zyonna Fellows says it all started with a photograph.
Two years ago, a newspaper photographer snapped a picture of Fellows blocking, her hands and elbows high above the volleyball net.
She was a sophomore and it was her second game on varsity. The photo sparked something in Fellows, giving her confidence.
“That motivated me because I was like, ‘Oh people think I’m good,’ ” Fellows said.
Now the 6-foot-4 senior is the leader of Mt. Tahoma’s girls volleyball team, and she has committed to play at the University of Arizona next fall. Fellows will be the first female athlete from Mt. Tahoma to go to a Pac-12 school on an athletic scholarship, said Mount Tahoma athletic director Karen Mulkey.
“My freshman year, I was not good at volleyball. As coach says I was like a baby giraffe,” Fellows said. “I was uncoordinated and everything and then that (the game the photo was taken) was my second game (on varsity) and I had a really good game.”
That picture not only gave Fellows confidence, but it also drew the attention of Angela Spoja, the club director for the South Sound volleyball club. Spoja contacted Rhonda Stinson, the head volleyball coach at Mt. Tahoma, to ask who the girl was making the incredible block.
That offseason, Fellows began playing club volleyball and discovered she had untapped abilities.
“I was out of shape my freshman and sophomore year but once I started playing club I started getting more athleticism,” Fellows said. “I started working harder. I started working on stuff I normally don’t do like passing, but overall I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better just from reps and people helping me, coaches helping me.”
One of those coaches, assistant coach Gayle Rosario, taught Fellows how to stay out of the net.
“I told her to quit going fishing,” Rosario said. “There’s no fishing in volleyball.”
Fellows mastered the skill, and has developed into an all-around player who is powerful and explosive. As the middle blocker she is a dominating force along the net, or rather above it. Last season she had 166 kills, 114 blocks and was named to the first-team all-Pierce County League.
She doesn’t just lead her team in statistical categories. Fellows helps set the tone as well, Stinson said.
“She went from this shy reserved girl to outspoken leader,” Stinson said. “We had a talk the other day that I said, ‘When you are smiling and laughing, everybody else is smiling and laughing. When you are serious and putting in work, everyone else is serious and putting in work.’ So she went from being a follower to a leader.”
Her sunny disposition is still there. In a tournament last year, Fellows felt the vibe just wasn’t right. So during a timeout she decided to tell a joke.
“Where does the dog go when its tail falls off?” Fellows asked. “To the re-tale store.”
Assistant coach Alanna “Coco” Bates-Carector, who graduated from Mount Tahoma high school last year and is helping out with the team this season, has noticed the change in Fellows.
“First time I met her (Fellows) was her walking into freshman orientation and all I saw was height and I was like, ‘yup, volleyball team,’ ” Bates-Carector said. “So she comes in and she can pass but she’s missing some hitting coordination, you know? Sophomore year, I don’t know what happened but she grew so much.”
Bates-Carector said a constant has been Fellow’s attitude. Mount Tahoma went 4-12 last year but Fellows was a positive force.
“For her to be smiling all the time, even when she messes up, she never has a bad attitude,” said Bate-Carector.
As Fellows has grown, so has the rest of the team. Stinson believes the team can win their district this year.
Experienced players Erykah Bymers and Taylor Rebelez will play key roles in making that happen. They both said Fellows has inspired them to up their game.
“I see how hard she hits and I’m just like I want to hit hard like that,” said Rebelez, an outside hitter. Now that I’m starting to hit harder it makes me feel like there’s more people getting as good as Zyonna. ... People want to be like Zy.”