Trinidad and Tobago volleyball player Destiny Leon recently graduated from Marshall University, where she excelled in the sport, and is now eyeing further opportunities to become a professional player in Europe.
Leon wants to continue representing her country, but said the obstacles in local volleyball may not only push her away from wearing TT colours but also a generation of talented athletes.
Leon graduated in December 2021 with a degree in business administration, which included a major in entrepreneurship and a minor in marketing.
A former student of Providence Girls' Catholic School, she tried a few sports before finding her niche in volleyball.
“My parents put me into sports. I played tennis and everything you could probably think of. Then I went into Providence and a coach saw me and was like, ‘You need to play volleyball.’”
Most volleyball players are tall, and since Leon is six foot three, she was seen as a potential player. Height runs in the family, as her father, Stephen, is six foot seven.
A national coach discovered Leon at a school tournament and her volleyball career started to blossom.
“I went into the team at school and I continued to play and then…a coach from the national team saw me and then he recruited me and told me I could play with the national team, and I just gradually progressed in it.”
Leon first attended San Jacinto Junior College in Houston, Texas, before transferring to Marshall University in West Virginia.
“I went to that school first because it was a junior college and people told me it was better to go to a junior college to at least get experience, see different things and after your first year you could transfer to a D1 (division one) school, the highest division in volleyball.”
TT volleyball players Kelly-Anne Billingly and Jalicia Ross also attended Marshall, and Leon said they were one reason she went there.
“They would have already told me it is a good school. The coach already knew of TT because of them playing there. That’s why he was able to ask for another player (from TT), so all of them made me make that decision as well.”
Leon said Billingly in particular made a name for herself at Marshall. She became a member of the Marshall University Athletics Hall of Fame a few years ago.
“She was very well-known at that school.”
Leon said she improved a lot when she transferred to Marshall, becoming more professional.
“When I came here, I thought it was how it would be in Trinidad. I was always late…if the bus is leaving at 9 o’clock in the morning, we have to be downstairs by 8.30 am.
“(I learnt) discipline, waking up (and) knowing that you have to get up at 6 am for workouts and stuff – you can’t miss it.”
Leon said her decision to remain on campus in the summer of 2020 to train paid off, as she was awarded the 2020/2021 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year. She was one of many Marshall players who won awards. Conference USA awards the top players in the league.
She had to stay on campus as the covid19 pandemic led TT to close its borders and few flights were allowed to enter.
Leon was also announced as a member of the 2020/2021 All-Conference second team for her outstanding display for Marshall.
Comparing playing at college and for TT, Leon said, “It is completely different. TT, I think they take their players for granted a lot and they don’t provide a lot of services for us.
“The experience I had away…is totally different to here, so I think there are a lot of things that needs to be changed with TT volleyball. A lot of things are more serious (in the US): coming to practice every day…sometimes we don’t even have a facility to practise (in TT). It is completely different, it is more in place over there.”
Leon is concerned that TT volleyball will lose several talented players if the environment does not improve.
Asked if she sees herself as part of the national set-up in the future, Leon said, “I always say I won’t go back…(but) you could never take away the pride of playing for your country. I always end up going if they ask me to play, but they need to really take it more seriously and try to treat players better and provide more services for us. There are a lot of kids on the national team that have a lot of potential, and if we have the stuff that we need, we could represent the country and make it far.”
Leon said the national women’s Under-23 team had to travel to the 2021 Junior Pan American Championships qualifying tournament last August in Mexico with an unprepared group, making it difficult to be competitive with the other countries.
“Those players are training hard every day, doing what they have to do to prepare themselves for these tournaments, and we practised like two months before we went…you all are not doing what you need to do throughout so that we could come to these tournaments and be prepared.”
TT lost 25-17, 25-17, 26-24 to Suriname and in the other Pool A match lost 25-8, 25-5, 25-5 to the Dominican Republic and therefore only competed for rankings after those two defeats.
“We literally embarrassed ourselves,” Leon said.
It did not help that a few of TT’s players were not available because of covid19 travel restrictions.
Leon is aiming to make a living in volleyball and is hoping to play professionally in France.
“I think I want to go to France. I just think I will fit in France. (However, in) Japan they make the most money, because their leagues are super strong.”