The Natural: How a Las Vegas volleyball novice became one of the state’s all-time best


Steve Marcus

Bishop Gorman High School’s Tommi Stockham, right, spikes the ball past Liberty’s Leahi Liftee-Sefo (18) during a game Oct. 29, 2019, at Liberty High School. Stockham was the 2018 and 2019 Gatorade Player of the Year.

Thu, Nov 7, 2019 (2 a.m.)

Tommi Stockham’s sport of choice was equestrianism. She loved riding her horse. But when she entered seventh grade, participation in a school sport was required. She was tall, so her dad told her to pick volleyball.

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Bishop Gorman High School's Tommi Stockham, who will sign next month with USC, was the state's Gatorade Player of the Year last season as a junior.

She had little knowledge of the game—she’d never watched it, let alone been familiar with the rules or strategies. But she immediately excelled, growing so passionate about it that she began playing year-round on a club team.

Stockham made the varsity squad as a freshman at Bishop Gorman High, a rarity, especially for someone relatively new to the sport. A few months later, she helped Gorman, a school that had offered volleyball since the 1950s, win its first state championship.

In a few quick years, the 6-foot-2 outside hitter cemented herself as one of Southern Nevada’s best players. And that was just the beginning. During the spring of her freshman year, some three years before graduating high school, Stockham received her first college scholarship offer.

Killer on the court

Tommi Stockham has amassed more than 1,000 kills in her four-year high school career. Her numbers have increased each year at Bishop Gorman:

• Freshman: 282

• Sophomore: 343

• Junior: 378

• Senior: 485 (so far)

“Freshman year was a big step for me, coming in with no expectations. You’re 14 and playing against girls who are 18,” Stockham says. “I kept taking steps forward. I was progressing continuously through the season.”

By the time the playoffs rolled around, Stockham was a fixture in the lineup. She recorded double-digit kills in every postseason match, and just like that, a star was born.

“There are players who have been playing for years and years who will never be as good as Tommi was [in her first season],” Gorman coach Gregg Nunley said.

Stockham is expected to sign a national letter-of-intent to play for a top-tier college program during the fall signing period, which begins November 13. Her final four: Wisconsin (ranked fifth nationally), Indiana, the University of San Diego and USC. She was verbally committed to the Trojans—who compete in beach volleyball—until last month.

The recruiting interest is justified, considering Stockham is ranked among the class of 2020’s top 40 by She was the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year last fall as a junior, when she recorded 378 kills, 241 digs, 61 aces and 40 blocks to help Gorman win its second state championship in three years.

Through October 31, Stockham had racked up 485 kills this season, with four games of 20 or more. But she’s more than just a powerful hitter. Her ability to pass from the back row means she doesn’t need to be subbed out during a rotation. The goal, after all, is to keep the best player on the court, and Nunley feels he has one of the nation’s best six-rotation players, something validated by the recruiting interest.

“She physically overpowers her opponents, because she’s such a strong kid. There are a lot of strong kids. But the difference is she’s a volleyball player,” he says. “She has shots that other kids just don’t have. She has shots other kids don’t see, and because of that she’s hard to defend against. [And] her savviness for the game not only comes on offense but on defense. She puts a complete package together that’s tough to beat.”

Stockham is Gorman’s unquestioned leader, on whom teammates have grown accustomed to relying for everything from a big point during a close game to leadership at practice. She sets the tone.

“We have a young team. Every move you make, they follow,” says Stockham, who also had 337 digs, 76 blocks and 69 aces through October 31. “They’re looking up to me, which I love. You can’t slack off because they feed off your energy.”

It should be a busy November for Stockham. The state tournament runs November 14-16, when she will have a chance to pick up one final prep championship. Along the way, she’ll pick a college program, with plans to bring more strong play to the next level.

Not bad for someone who spent all those years riding horses.

This story originally appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.

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