SALT LAKE CITY — Despite her passion for volleyball, Bailey Choy nearly quit when she was about 12 years old.
A hard-working athletic youngster, she wasn’t struggling with the skills required or the demands of the sport. She wasn’t frustrated over playing time or an inability to succeed on the court.
It was her club volleyball coach, she said, who just happened to be her dad, Barney Choy. His “old-school” style resulted in her dissolving into tears almost every day. “I remember crying every, single practice because he would yell at me so much,” the Utah sophomore setter said with a smile. “Now looking back on it, I’m just so appreciative of that.”
It’s not that Utah’s cerebral setter enjoyed her father’s high-octane rebukes and instructions. It did, however, help her to separate information from emotion, and that has helped her find success in the toughest volleyball conference in the country much more quickly than most people, including her, anticipated.
“I am actually very surprised,” she said, laughing. “Especially my freshman year. I didn’t expect to gain the starting position. I just thought I would gain some experience and just knowledge. It’s, by far, been so amazing.”
Her teammates credit her skills and style with helping them to reach this weekend’s Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament where they will take on No. 2 Texas on Friday at 7 p.m. in Maples Pavilion in Palo Alto, California. (The match will be televised on ESPN3.)
“She’s smart,” said senior all-conference outside hitter Adora Anae. “She’s fast, she’s calm, and so as a setter, that’s really important. She’s a calm and collected leader.”
Utah leads the Pac-12 in assists, and that’s due, in large part, to Choy’s offensive choices. Choy has 1,196 assists — an average of 9.49 per set. That’s seventh in the Pac-12, but consider that she shares setting duties with Camryn Machado, as Utah switches from an offense that utilizes one setter to one that uses two, midway through most sets.
Her season high is 54 assists — both of those against in-state opponents in BYU and UVU.
“Well, Bailey knows the game, and she sees the game,” said Utah head coach Beth Launiere. “And she’s a student of the game, and that’s everything that you want in a setter. She makes some calls sometimes on the floor that I’m like, ‘Ok, you go!’ She’s not afraid to be a little bit of a risk taker, and those are good traits for a setter.”
Choy’s face lights up when asked about the offensive possibilities she sees among her teammates.
“It’s fun,” she said. “It’s like a chess game. You have so many weapons that can execute, and it’s just a matter of putting them in good situations.”
Choy isn’t sure she’d be the steely player that she is without her father’s coaching – even though, to pre-teen Bailey, it seemed unbearable.
“My mom was like a mediator at home,” she said laughing again. “We tried to leave it in the gym, not even talk about it in the car, leave everything in the gym. But sometimes I was still crying after leaving the gym.”
She laughs at the memory, and then quickly adds.
“I am so grateful for my dad,” she said. “I learned so much from him.”
When she returns to her home in Honolulu, Hawai’i, Choy will sometimes help her dad on the sidelines.
“When I go home, I help him out with coaching,” she said. “Sometimes I catch myself sounding just like him.”
And then she laughs again, reiterating that without him, she wouldn’t be the player — or leader — that she is at Utah.
“I just feel like volleyball is such a cerebral sport,” she said. “There is so much strategy to it. I think that’s what makes it really fun.”