Stephanie Bell decided to skip her senior season of volleyball at Marymount (Va.) last year to pursue a different athletic endeavor.
It still involves bumps and hits, only now she is working without a net. And instead of delivering overhand serves, she's dishing out forearm smashes.
Bell gave up the sport she had played at James Madison High School (Vienna, Va.) and in college to go after her dream of becoming a professional wrestler.
Known as Mia Yim on the independent wrestling circuit, Bell wrestles at small venues in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Virginia while keeping an eye on one day working for a major wrestling company such as World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) or Total Nonstop Action (TNA) and performing in arenas.
Tonight, Bell will wrestle on the Maryland Championship Wrestling (MCW) card at The New Green Room, a pool hall/bar in Dundalk.
Although she has been wrestling for less than two years, Bell has turned some heads in the industry -- and not solely because of her striking looks.
"My first impression was that she definitely has a good look and is very interested in learning and getting better," said MCW owner Dan McDevitt, a pro wrestler and former wrestling trainer who had a hand in furthering the training of former WWE stars Lita and Mickie James.
"She's improved every time I've seen her," McDevitt said. "And she has the passion, so I do think that if she sticks with it, she'll make it."
Bell, 21, became a wrestling fan by watching WWE's scripted athletic contests and soap opera-type storylines on television with her family when she was 8.
"I was like 10 or 11 when I said: 'Oh, that looks like fun. I want to do it,'" she said. "I saw Lita and Trish [Stratus] and I was like, "OK, women can actually wrestle, too."
Going against the wishes of her father -- who, ironically, was the one who got her interested in wrestling -- Bell began learning the ropes at a wrestling school in Manassas, Va., after she turned 18.
Bell said her background in volleyball helped prepare her for wrestling.
"When I was learning how to take bumps [in wrestling], I felt like I was at a volleyball conditioning session," she said. "It was a lot of running, jumping drills, all that stuff."
In an industry that is predominantly male, it was not surprising that Bell was often the lone girl training at the school.
"I trained for a year and a half before I did my first show, and during that time a lot of girls came and went," she said. "I was so used to [wrestling] guys that when I had my first match against a girl, it was very different. She was a small, delicate little girl. Most of them are all so gentle and I was like, 'Oh, this [stinks].'"
Bell's boyfriend, Richard Bailey -- a defensive end/linebacker at Gallaudet University -- said he is "always worried about her getting hurt," but he still watches her wrestle every chance he gets.
"When I met her, she was a volleyball player playing against my school," Bailey said. "She asked me if I wanted to see her wrestle. I didn't see her as a wrestler, and I was curious to see how she would perform in the ring. ÃƒÆ’Ã‚â€šÃƒâ€šÃ‚â€¦ She did great, and the fans were excited. It made me very proud."
Last summer while on vacation with her family in Orlando, Fla., Bell got the opportunity to wrestle a nontelevised match for TNA, an international wrestling company that has a weekly prime-time show on Spike TV.
While Bell was not offered a contract -- "I think they're just looking for more experienced people right now," she said -- she did make a positive impression.
"It was an awesome experience, and I learned so much," Bell said of her match against one of TNA's contracted performers. "I've been told that a lot of people [in TNA] were impressed because they thought I was just another pretty face, but I can [wrestle]."
Bell said she wants to go as far in the wrestling business as she can, but if it doesn't work out, she has a backup plan. She's pursuing a degree in information technology.
Juggling school four days a week with wrestling on weekends and spending time with her boyfriend isn't easy, she said, but an even bigger challenge is keeping a low profile at Marymount. She likens her lifestyle to that of a superhero trying to conceal her secret identity.
"The only people that know I wrestle are on the volleyball team," she said. "I try not to tell people at school because that's my time to learn, not talk about wrestling. But about a couple months ago, I was walking by a group of guys that I had never seen in my life, and I heard them say, 'Oh my God, that girl's a pro wrestler.' So my cover's blown."