BY ANTHONY ANDERSON
ELKHART -- Azariah Stahl's first name was inspired by the angel of that same name.
Photos of the 14-year-old in volleyball action suggest she's hiding wings as she gracefully propels her sleek, 5-foot-11, long-armed and long-legged frame skyward for a spike.
There's also simply her rapid ascension in the sport itself.
Azariah Stahl's only been playing competitively for about two years, yet the Elkhart resident was one of just 50 players chosen nationwide earlier this year to participate on USA Volleyball's top team for girls born in 1994 and '95.
Stahl, who is home-schooled and entering the eighth grade, was the only player chosen from Indiana, making the "Select A1" team as an outside hitter after she participated in a tryout in Indianapolis.
"I was really, really shocked when I made it," Stahl says. "But I was so excited and happy."
Happy, in part, due to her affection for the game.
"I absolutely love it," Stahl says of playing volleyball. "What's so appealing to me is it's a really fast game. You always have to be ready and doing something. It's very hard and takes a lot of determination, and it's really fun."
Stahl got her first extended exposure to national-level competition last month when the Select A1 team gathered in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for 10 days of workouts and tournament play.
The 50 girls were assessed and divided into five squads of 10. Stahl made the USA Select Blue squad, which was considered the No. 3 squad among the five. Elite teams of 16 and 17-year-olds from around the country and some international teams were added to the mix for the tournament.
Stahl's Blue squad went 7-1 and took the bronze medal.
"The competition level was really high," Stahl says. "It was kind of how I imagined the college level might be. Everybody was so good and so quick, but going through it, I got better, and volleyball seems not as hard as I thought it was."
Stahl plays during the fall school season for the Goshen Blue Blazers, a team of home-schooled children, then from November to May for the Midwest Juniors, a traveling club team of Michiana players.
She originally gave volleyball a try "because my mom had a friend coaching a team, and my mom made me play to see if I liked it."
Stahl's mom, Yolanda, is also her primary home-school teacher.
Stahl's dad, John, says the family makes its decision "year to year" on whether to have the children continue with home-schooling or enroll in more traditional schools. For the record, the Stahls live in the Central district. Azariah has two older brothers, 17-year-old Satori and 15-year-old John Jr.
"A lot of it's my coaches and my parents," Stahl says of what's accounted for her success. "My parents help me so much with getting me to practice and giving me lots of encouragement."
Stahl's coaches have included Jenny Randolph with the Goshen Blue Blazers and Carl Greulich with the Midwest Juniors.
Stahl -- who describes herself on the court as "aggressive, really competitive, don't like losing, love winning" -- plans to participate in another A1 camp in December in Colorado.
Beyond that, she has an eye on possibly playing collegiately, not that she doesn't have other interests as well.
Stahl enjoys writing "silly, paranormal" short stories, writing "upbeat and alternative" songs, singing and designing clothes.
Presumably, clothes an angel might wear.