For London-born graduate Savanah Leaf, returning home meant a spot in the 2012 Olympic Games.
At the end of June, Leaf discovered that she made the cut for Great Britain’s Olympic volleyball squad. The 18-year-old is the Olympic squad’s newest member, joining the team this past April. Her vollyball career started eight years ago.
Fitting in to a new place is not new to Leaf. Although she was born in London, her family moved to San Anselmo in 2001 when her mother, Alison, got a job at Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic in San Rafael.
“I feel like all my hard work has finally paid off and that now I can show the world why I deserve to be here,” Leaf wrote in an email.
On her way to becoming a sophomore at University of Miami, Leaf put her studies on hold to compete for a spot on Great Britain’s team. The odds were against her, since the coach and the team had been together for many years before she arrived.
“I had to come in this summer and prove I deserved a spot,” she wrote. “I had to fight every day to show everyone that I deserved to be here.”
Her first international appearance on the team won her some media attention when the Brits won 3-2 over Peru. Around that time, she learned she was going to the Olympics.
“I don't think I can truly put it into words how I felt when I found out,” she wrote. “All I can say is it is a dream come true for me.”
Leaf’s interest in volleyball first peaked in 2004, when an elementary school coach invited her to watch a team practice one evening. Noting Leaf’s excitement about the sport, the coach asked her if she wanted to join.
“She always was a big observer so I could see she had some talent at the beginning,” her mother Alison said. “What made her stand out is that she has this incredible awareness on the court.”
Over the next years, Leaf played for her school and club volleyball teams. Known for her kangaroo-like jumps and powerful hits, she was the only freshman who earned a starting a spot on the varsity team at Marin Academy that year.
Craig Wong coached Leaf through four years of Marin Academy and several club volleyball games. During those years, Leaf changed from a naturally talented offensive player to a well-rounded team member.
“From everything I’ve seen, she’s alway risen to the challenge,” said Wong, noting that, while she was competitive, she was also the player who smiled the most during games.
Leaf graduated from Marin Academy in 2011 and attended San Jose State University and then University of Miami on scholarships before returning to London.
Currently, Leaf is training twice a day, six days a week until the tournaments begin on July 28. The British team will face squads from Japan, Italy, Russia, Dominican Republic and Algeria.
“I know we will turn heads, and surprise people around the world,” Leaf wrote. “We are ready to take on all the different varieties of players from around the world, and we are ready to win.”