On a Tuesday afternoon at Galen Center, Khalia Lanier tosses her jacket courtside after running a suicide. She is frustrated with her performance after losing a game during an in-practice scrimmage. She refocuses for the next one, and rattles off an emphatic hit. Everyone in the facility turns and takes notice after hearing the ball strike the court, untouched by the opposing players.
Lanier, USC’s high-profile junior outside hitter, hasn’t always asserted her presence on the volleyball court. The daughter of NBA Hall of Famer Bob Lanier, she recalls playing basketball early on, but found herself connecting more with volleyball.
“I always tried to play basketball behind him and had this issue with feeling like I wasn’t in my own spotlight — being Bob Lanier’s daughter instead of Khalia Lanier,” she said. “I think just getting a different experience and kind of wanting to make a name for myself is what really drew me to the sport.”
The pressure of being the child of a professional athlete can be challenging, and Lanier recalls playing five sports at one point — trying to figure out what she enjoyed the most. She found volleyball to be a “cathartic experience” that allowed her to express her emotions and relieve that pressure through sport.
It turned out to be a successful choice. She was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year her senior year in high school at Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix. Last year, as a sophomore, she was recognized as an AVCA first-team All-American and a Volleyball Magazine first-team All-American.
But volleyball didn’t come naturally to Lanier. She faced a challenge in learning to play volleyball, and found she had to be patient and battle herself.
“You have to learn how to have self-compassion while doing your job and doing the tasks that are asked of you, but not letting it become overwhelming and having the compassion and patience with yourself to understand that sometimes you will have bad days,” Lanier said.
Lanier’s journey in the sport — from learning to play to the college recruitment process — was always filled with pressure. Since her freshman year in high school, Lanier knew that her top choices for college teams included USC, Texas and Stanford. After visiting USC, her gut told her it was the perfect fit.
“[What] I love about USC is the diversity and the feeling of being at a really great academic school along with a good college experience,” Lanier said. “I think [former head coach] Mick Haley did a really great job in recruiting and showing off the benefits of the school and making sure that I connected with the girls.”
Since arriving at USC, Lanier has made quick progress, accumulating stats as well as accolades with 1,214 kills and 717 digs through three seasons thus far.
Lanier’s growth as a player and a leader on the team has not gone unnoticed by her coach and teammates.
“[Lanier is] an elite athlete,” said Brent Crouch, the women’s volleyball head coach. “She’s actually a really cerebral player. She thinks about the game both from a technical level, how to move her body in space, and a tactical level — which shot should I be hitting? What decision should I be making?”
Her teammates see her as simultaneously intimidating and encouraging, excelling as an individual while pushing them to perform better overall.
“[Khalia’s] starting to vocally lead in games, which previously wasn’t something she focused on, but now it’s something that she’s bringing to the table during matches,” senior libero Victoria Garrick said. “I know it’s really helpful because as one of the best players, it really means a lot when she gets on us to work hard.”
Freshman setter Raquel Lázaro recalls feeling excitement as well as pressure to play her best around Lanier when she first joined the team.
“As a player she’s focused … [and] she gives me lots of confidence when we are playing,” Lázaro said.
Garrick said Lanier’s impact on the team has been bigger than just on the court.
“As a teammate, Khalia’s got an infectious personality,” Garrick said. “Everyone who meets her loves her, and it’s just great to have someone on the team who is always bringing something new to the conversation and making us laugh, making us cry, just really making us feel all sorts of emotions.”
After the program underwent a coaching change this past offseason, Lanier had to get used to a new system, but she has responded by playing an impressive season in her junior year so far, with 203 kills and 118 digs in addition to her team-leading 18 service aces.
Crouch attributes Lanier’s growth in response to the offseason change to her dedication to the game.
“She didn’t get to practice a lot in the spring and summer because of some back issues, but she was always in practice, whether she was practicing or not,” Crouch said. “She [was] intent on learning the new things that we were teaching and she is she actually is able to change technique fairly quickly.”
Lanier said she has grown outside the lines of the court and more than just as an athlete.
“Being in a college like USC … you have the chance to be in this melting pot of Los Angeles,” Lanier said. “Getting the experience both inside of campus and outside and really like develop and have life experiences and [the] ups and downs all go towards your growth as a person.”
From here, Lanier — a human biology major — is keeping the Olympics in mind as considers what her career after volleyball will be.
“I’m definitely in this kind of transition period in my career where I’m trying to learn the balance between volleyball and life,” Lanier said.