Former University of Miami volleyball star Ciara Michel has lived in several countries since leaving Miami in December of 2007, and her odyssey could hit its zenith if she makes Great Britain’s Olympic roster later this month.
Michel, a 6-5 middle blocker, is one of 14 remaining players competing for 12 spots. Also in that group is 6-0 left-side hitter Savanah Leaf, who is set to make her debut for the Hurricanes this fall after transferring from San Jose State University.
Michel, who was born in Taunton, England, and turns 27 on July 2, has been training to make the team for the past two years. She met Leaf in early May, when she joined her on the Great Britain training roster.
The two played together recently — Michel as a starter and Leaf coming in off the bench — when Great Britain won 3-2 against Peru, which is ranked No. 17 in the world. Great Britain, ranked 69, is currently training in Finland, playing five matches in 10 days.
“Sav made an impact the first time she stepped on the court against Peru,” Michel said, “and she’s been continually impressive.”
The same can be said of Michel, who still holds the Canes’ career record for blocks and is fifth in points and seventh in kills.
She played her high school ball at Miami’s Palmer Trinity and then redshirted for a year before becoming a four-year starter for the Canes. She made second-team All-ACC in 2008.
“Ciara was really raw when she came to us,” Canes coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. “She’s a great story.”
Michel went on to play pro volleyball in Australia, Germany and Great Britain. She also earned a master’s degree in publishing and media communications while playing in Australia.
She is now waiting for June 25, when Great Britain’s coaches will announce the final cuts. Making the roster has added significance for Michel because this summer’s Olympics will be held in her home country.
“I wouldn’t say it has been a ‘life-long dream’ because I never imagined I would be at the level to even be considered for an Olympic squad,” Michel said.
“But now that it has been over two years in the making, it has become a driving force in every decision I make.”
Leaf, 18, has far less experience than Michel. But the native of London — she moved to California when she was 8 — showed her talent as a freshman last season at San Jose State, when she led her team in kills and points.
“Savanah hits harder than a lot of the girls in our gym and is poised to make a big impact for us this fall,” Welch said.
“It’s amazing she’s made it as far as she has [with Great Britain] considering her age and how new she is to their program.”
Back in Miami
Michel, who hasn’t been back in Miami since her sister’s wedding in 2009, is looking forward to her 10-year high school reunion next May, when she could possibly mention, in casual conversation, that she is an Olympian.
Either way, she is thrilled when she thinks about where volleyball has taken her so far.
“I can’t believe I’ve put off the real world again,” Michel said. “After I got my master’s degree, I imagined I would have to finally get a normal 9-5 office job.
“But, instead, I found a way to make my hobby into a career.”