Ever since Samantha Bishop started playing volleyball at Challenger K-8, she has cultivated a love for the game, and an ambition to play it in college.
On Wednesday, the Central senior made that dream a reality, signing with Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University out of Hickory, N.C.
"This feels absolutely amazing for me," Bishop said. "I have been working for this since I started playing. I knew I wanted to get a scholarship as soon as I started playing. The first time I picked up a ball that's what I wanted. It just feels great going to a different state and experiencing everything that there's to offer.
"This was my choice because I just wanted to go somewhere and do something with my life, and I wanted to be one of the first people in my family to actually do this. Sports scholarship is a big thing, and not many people get it around here."
Primarily a middle hitter at 6-foot, Bishop has spent the past four years starting for the Lady Bears' varsity squad, serving as a captain since her sophomore season.
She was an All-County selection in 2012, when she recorded 306 kills and 38 aces after Anthony DiSciascio took over as head coach for the season's fifth match.
DiSciascio had previously been the team's head coach Bishop's first two seasons and was on hand for her signing. Andrea Kneser took over the program this past summer.
"She told me from the first day that I met her that this was a dream of hers, and I told her she could do anything that she puts her mind to, and she definitely overcame a lot and persevered, and this is her dream and she totally deserves it," said Kneser, who played at Pensacola State College and NAIA Webber International University.
"She's one of those that she's just that all-around player you can put in wherever's needed, and she's just fought hard and it's been an extreme blessing. I see a lot of me in her as a former college player and I know that she just needs to soak up these next four years because they're going to go by really fast."
Since seventh grade Bishop has also honed her game on the club level, most recently with a branch of the No Name Volleyball Club operating primarily out of Bishop McLaughlin Catholic.
In prep action, while Bishop achieved some personal success, the Lady Bears went a combined 30-61 during her four seasons.
"I would probably describe it as a definite learning experience," Bishop said. "We started off slow. We don't have the best county competition-wise, but we still fought and it was good.
"I believe high school led me into playing club and led me to do better in club. Then I would bring back what I played in club and brought it back to high school and used it to my advantage."
Bishop took an extremely proactive approach in finding a college destination. She said she made a list of all the D-II schools in the country, then went down the line and emailed or called coaches, hoping to peak someone's interest.
Schools in Texas, Pennsylvania and New York, as well as several in Florida, were in the mix, but Lenoir-Rhyne - also called the Bears - won her over when she paid the campus a visit.
"I just felt this home feeling," Bishop said. "These people were just so sweet and kind to me and I knew that he was going to be the right coach for me. He knew how to tailor everything into me."
Lenoir-Rhyne head coach Dave Markland has told Bishop he intends to keep her as a middle hitter, where the team is losing its top player to graduation.
Lenoir-Rhyne finished 17-10 in 2013, losing in the first round of the South Atlantic Conference Tournament.
Bishop spoke repeatedly about her desire to take on a leadership role, a continuation of her duties with the Lady Bears.
"She was a great person on and off the court," Kneser said. "She demonstrated great qualities in the classroom that transferred to the court. And a lot of the girls looked up to her. She was the go-to person for advice of what to correct on the court when I couldn't be the voice on the court."
Kneser believes Bishop's experience at Lenoir-Rhyne will serve as a steppingstone toward greater opportunities, possibly playing overseas or in beach volleyball, or joining the coaching ranks.
Bishop plans to double major in psychology and another undecided field. But the former dancer who once never believed she'd play volleyball can't see herself walking away.
"I do want to end up being a coach, maybe for a club team or even a college team," Bishop said. "I don't know yet, but I do want to stay with it. I don't want to lose it right after my four years (in college) is done."