Lauren Heller is one very focused eighth grader with much of her world revolving around her athletic pursuits.
She’s on Vision, a nationally-ranked volleyball club, works out with a trainer at Empowerment Fitness, uses an array of home exercise equipment, and plays on two Hillview School basketball teams: the tournament team, which is selected, and the regular team.
The delight is that she so clearly loves what she’s doing. If she’s driven, it’s because of her passion for the game, particularly volleyball.
She began playing volleyball at 10, and by the time she was 12, discovered she had a skill set and drive that set her apart. “I was playing middle blocker,” she recalls. “I noticed I was one of the better hitters. Plus, I had this desire to win.”
She now plays both indoor and beach volleyball. (Photo above shows Lauren – center wearing white – celebrating with teammates after a victory in the Far Westerns National Qualifier last May.)
Listed at 5’8″ on the Vision roster, she says she enjoys basketball but that “volleyball is my strength. To me, it’s more of a team sport than basketball. You can dribble the ball down the court and score in basketball, but in volleyball you can’t score alone – you need two other people.”
What’s she finds most fulfilling about playing competitive sports is the bonding she experiences with her teammates. “I love every girl on my team,” she says. “They feel like family to me.”
Before making a final decision about which high school to attend, she shadowed at Menl0-Atherton, where she’s decided to go in the Fall. She’s excited at the prospect and expects to make the varsity volleyball team as a freshman. She’ll play for Vision when the high school season ends. (Note: Her Vision coach, Bret Almazan-Cezar was recently named Volleyball Coach of the Year.)
Her family — mother Lesley, father, Kevin, and brother, Michael — are supportive of Lauren and tight knit as a group. They enjoy spending time together on vacations and also volunteering for local non-profit efforts. Recently they gathered with others in East Palo Alto at an event organized by San Francisco Giants pitcher Jeremy Affeldt, who is a close family friend, where they helped pack meals for those in need in the Bay Area and Guatemala. A goal of Jeremy’s organization, Generative Alive, is to teach and empower young people to help others.
Given that friendship, it’s not surprising that Lauren is also a big Giants fan. Just as she doesn’t play one sport, she doesn’t follow just one as spectator. “I’m a pretty big Stanford football fan,” she says. “I’ve really gotten to understand the game, so it’s fun to watch.”
Photos by Lesley Heller