Like mother, like daughter.
San Marcos High junior volleyball player Layla Diaz recalls watching her mother play the game at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin as a little girl. More than a decade later, the first-year letter-winner under Rattlers head coach Michelle Moreno is carving her own path in the sport.
Though San Marcos’ 2019 season is about to come to an end, it was still an unforgettable year for the 5-foot-7-inch Diaz, who plays outside hitter. She is happy to carry on her mother’s athletic legacy.
“It’s fun because it’s a way we’re able to connect, and I know that I’m going to be able to pass it down to the kids I’ll have later in my life,” Diaz told Texas Scorecard. “And I can tell them stories about their grandma and how I played.”
While her mother was on defense during her own playing days, Diaz serves as a key offensive asset for San Marcos. Moreno said that Diaz started her debut season strong and worked hard to become the Rattlers’ leader in kills – 321 as of press time. Diaz, the coach added, experienced adversity in the form of injury but overcame it nonetheless.
“She’s a fighter,” Moreno said. “She wants to be on that court. And we look out for her.”
In addition to being the team’s top kill producer, Diaz ranks in the top five in aces with 24. Moreno further touted Diaz’s defensive skills, agility and work ethic.
“She’s a competitor, and I like that about her,” the coach said. “Sometimes I think she’s too hard on herself … for her first year, it has been a good start and I look forward to having her stronger next year.”
Diaz described her first time on varsity as “fun and very eye-opening.
“The players and the chemistry that goes around the team is just amazing,” Diaz said. “It’s different because it’s a higher intensity of volleyball.”
The current San Marcos squad consists of players up to 5-feet-9-inches, relatively diminutive compared to much of the competition. According to Moreno, Diaz is a good athlete with “good ups and good power behind her swing,” which helps the Rattlers’ strategy of playing small.
“Like Layla, the team gets after it,” the coach said. “They don’t back down to size. They’re quick, they hustle and they’re athletic. We work on those jumping skills so that we can get up, block and attack at the net. You do what you got to do. Effort is everything so they give it their best and they’re aggressive.”
Diaz, who is proud to be first in kills after debuting on the varsity roster, said that her team is more like a family.
“The team chemistry is probably the best part [of my first season] because when you go and play against teams, you see them bickering on the court and how it affects their game,” she said. “But with our team, there’s no drama. It’s just straight like a family, and we gel together.”
As of this writing, the Rattlers are 15-28 overall with a 1-11 mark in district competition. Moreno, however, is proud of the fact that she has players who are making improvements. There are also some players on the verge of breaking school records, providing another measure of success on the year.
Diaz hopes she and her fellow underclassmen on the team could make the last two games memorable for her senior teammates.
“As underclassmen, we’re all really close to them,” she said. “They’re like our family and we just want to see them happy.”
When off the court, Diaz talks to her mother, who lettered at what is now known as the Ann Richards School For Young Woman Leaders in Austin, about what happens at practice. After games, they review film and troubleshoot. They occasionally go to a nearby activity center to hone her game.
“[My mom] is very influential,” Diaz said. “I look up to her because I grew up in the gym. I remember some plays in my head from when I saw her play. I remember wanting to be there and wanting to be her when I grew up. I take her words very seriously when it comes to volleyball because she knows what she’s doing.”
Diaz’s senior year may be less than a year away, but it does not stop her and Moreno from setting goals.
“The expectation is that she also is a leader and holds a captain role, which is something that she strives for,” the coach said.
Diaz, who is also on the softball and track teams, expects to raise her kill percentage and become a team leader in other ways.
“I want to be able to hold my word next year,” she said. “I want to say what I mean and do what I say.”