By David Villavicencio
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Few athletes have experiences like Miami’s Savanah Leaf.
The junior outside hitter represented Great Britain at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. While playing for her country in her hometown was an incredible experience, meeting the British Royal Family was an honor she never imagined would be possible.
“I felt extremely honored and privileged to have been invited to Buckingham Palace,” Leaf said. “I was excited and proud to be a part of the Queen's Garden Party, of which only a select group of people are able to attend.”
Leaf, along with Hurricanes volleyball alumna Ciara Michel, was among the British Olympians, Paralympians and celebrities that mingled with guests invited from all over the United Kingdom at a Buckingham Palace garden party hosted by the Queen of England.
“It has been a pleasure to have a fellow Cane for a teammate on the national team,” Leaf said. “Ciara and I could relate, which made it easier to play with her and also get to know her off the court. Ciara also is a hard worker and represents the University of Miami well, so it was a privilege to have been able to play with her on such a big stage.”
Michel enjoyed having another Cane as a teammate on the British squad and the two enjoyed representing the Hurricanes and their country at the Olympics.
“It was very cool having a fellow Cane by my side on the court,” Michel said. “It was a constant reminder of where I came from to get where I am today. I owe so much to my coaches and teammates from UM and seeing new players like Sav makes me excited to see how far the program has come. It was great to rep the U with Sav in London!”
The Queen has hosted garden parties since the 1860s when Queen Victoria instituted what were known as 'breakfasts', though they took place in the afternoon. In the 1950s, the number of garden parties held at Buckingham Palace was increased from two to three per year. They took the place of presentation parties attended by debutantes but have evolved into a way of rewarding and recognizing public service. They are attended by people from all walks of life.
“At the party, we drank tea served with tea cakes and sandwiches while strolling around the Palace Gardens,” Leaf said. “The Royal Family then walked throughout the garden meeting and greeting people. The entire event was amazing and I will cherish those memories forever.”
Leaf played in all five of Great Britain’s matches at the 2012 Olympics, even though she was the youngest British volleyball player at the Games. While her team did not advance past pool play, Leaf’s Olympic experience helped her make one of her dreams a reality.
“I always dreamed of being in the Olympics because it is every athlete’s goal,” Leaf said. “But it never really sunk in that I was going to play in the Olympics until it actually happened. I never imagined that I would have achieved that goal of mine when I was 18 years old. I felt extremely proud and grateful to have represented my home country, Great Britain, in our home Olympics in 2012.”
Though she was born in London, Leaf moved to Marin County, Calif., when she was 8. She transferred from San Jose State to the University of Miami following her freshman year and was a contributor on of the most successful teams in Miami volleyball history.
As a sophomore, Leaf had double-digit kills in 10 matches and tied for second on the team with 22 service aces. The six-foot junior is spending her off-season working to make a bigger impact in her second season as a Hurricane.
“I am working hard on building strength in order to make my game well-rounded,” Leaf said. “Each day I am trying to get better so that I can become a better all-around athlete. The off-season is obviously difficult because you have to be very self-motivated. This off-season has really been about challenging to see how hard I can push myself.”
Leaf hopes to help push herself and her team further than they went a year ago. Miami qualified for the NCAA tournament, but fell to College of Charleston in the first round. Leaf hopes her hard work now will help the Canes succeed in their 2013 season.
“I am preparing for the upcoming season by working out and staying in shape,” Leaf said. “I want to compete with not just my teammates, but also the players across the net.”
The Canes finished second in the ACC a year ago, but Leaf expects to bring home the conference championship in 2013.
“My goals are to win the ACC and make it far in the tournament,” Leaf said. “I have many personal goals that will help the team achieve that.”For all the latest information on Miami Hurricanes volleyball, follow the official Twitter feed, @CanesVB, or "Like Us" on Facebook at facebook.com/MiamiVolleyball. The program is also on Instagram (CanesVB).