“I’ve always believed that size doesn’t matter…”

—LaToya Harris

It’s late November. LaToya Harris’s red-knit stocking cap is pulled down tight over the tops of her ears. She’s wearing a gray 2002 Apple Cup t-shirt, blue jeans, running shoes, large gold-colored hoop earrings, and a smile.

Her classes are finished for the day. Volleyball practice begins a 2 p.m., an hour away. There’s time for an interview.

The smile? It widens when she’s asked about efforts to recruit her out of high school. Stanford, the Arizona schools, and Oregon sent inquiries. Nebraska and Wisconsin did the same. Then came a second round of letters. Politely as they could, each school implied she was “too short” to play big-time college volleyball.

Was she disappointed? Yes, but not discouraged. From her single mother, Barbara, a typesetter, and her grandmother, Mae, she learned to be strong. Things happen for a reason. You have to work hard to be the best.

The 5-foot-7 Harris wasn’t “too short” to earn 12 varsity letters at Portland’s Parkrose High. She was a two-time all-state catcher in softball, scored 39 points in a basketball game, and Parkrose retired her volleyball jersey.

While other Pac-10 Conference schools overlooked her, WSU didn’t. Impressed by Harris’s “explosiveness and competitiveness,” coach Cindy Fredrick gave her an opportunity to play Pac-10 volleyball at WSU.

 ”I’ve always believed that size doesn’t matter,” says Harris. “It’s how hard you work … the love for the game you have in your heart.”

And she credits her mom for making sacrifices for her to participate in volleyball clubs and in summer leagues, where she would hone her skills and gain exposure. “It didn’t matter what the sport.”

At WSU the right side-left side hitter made an instant impact. She was a member of the All Pac-10 Freshman Team. As a sophomore she was All-Pac-10. She repeated as a junior, battling back from summer knee surgery and the loss of her grandmother to cancer. As a senior, she gained All-Pac-10 status again as one of the Cougars’ most consistent performers and the “go to” player.

“Look at all her honors-All-Pac-10, All-Tournament” Fredrick says. “They reflect what other coaches are seeing as well.”

WSU assistant volleyball coach Mashallah “Farokh” Farokhmanesh once commented, “Without LaToya, we’re a good team. With her we are an exceptional team.”

That was the case in mid-November, when the 17th-ranked Cougars stunned no. 1 Stanford in four games in Bohler Gym. The victory was particularly sweet for the seniors, their first over Stanford.

“I feel any team is beatable,” Harris says. Her contributions that evening included career and season highs of 29 kills and 18 digs, plus three service aces. She is one of only three Cougars with more than 1,000 digs and 1,000 kills in their careers. Her 143 career service aces top WSU’s list.

A powerful left-handed jump serve at the top of a 31-inch vertical leap sets her apart from the field. When she goes up to hit, she can see over the net and the open spots on the other side. On defense, she’s always in the “pursuit” mode. “It’s something you can’t teach,” Fredrick says. “You either have it, or you don’t.”

In the backcourt she likes to stay low to the floor to field digs. At the net, she strikes like a cobra, hammering the ball down the line or across court. On occasion, she’ll drop a “dink” in front of a surprised foe. Over the years, she worked hard to improve her blocking and now gives herself a 7.5 on a 10-point scale. When taller players try to hit the ball over or past her, she says, “I take that personally.” She also takes seriously the reputation of Cougar volleyball and expects others to keep the standard high.

After graduating in May, she plans to test her skills in the pro volleyball camps. Someday she wants to be a coach-“just like Cindy.

“She’s always made me feel like one of the family … like a daughter. She’s there for her players, on and off the court.”

The interview over, LaToya excused herself to prepare for the Cougars’ final Pac-10 series against Oregon and Oregon State on the road.

Somehow her brilliant four-year volleyball career at WSU seemed “too short.”