SAN ANTONIO — Lia Morales may seem mousey on the sidelines. But as soon as a paddle gets in her hand, she's a table tennis tiger.
Tenacity is not one of those overused or wasted words when it comes to Lia Morales. She refuses to let go of table tennis. It's her obsession, and she admits that with a smile.
The 11-year-old's lure to the game started at the library.
"One time me and my dad were going to the library – and then we saw table tennis in like this little room," Lia said. "I just told my dad she wanted to try it."
Frank Morales obliged his youngest daughter. After all, he had supported and even coached three older children.
"At first, it did surprise me. I didn't think she would take much interest in it," Morales said. "But once she held that racket and she started hitting, we couldn't get it out of her hand."
The Harlandale Middle School student, according to her father, had gone through a progression of interests, likes cheerleading, dance and ballet. But she insisted her parents direct all extracurricular funding to table tennis.
"I liked how fast it was," she said.
She also liked the challenge. As she learned the game with her dad, it became noticeable that there was a natural talent and potential. Morales found a coach for Lia at the San Antonio Table Tennis Club.
"She's really a special student because she's really smart for her age," Vlad Farcas said.
The 21-year-old Romanian coach watched her gift on the table develop rapidly. He also noticed her commitment to the game.
"She would be here from opening to closing if she was on her schedule only," he said.
Lia said her love for the game comes with an Olympic-sized goal.
"I would want to make the national team and hopefully win a medal for my country," she said.
Table tennis is not an extraordinarily supported sport in Texas, where football is king. Nationally, the picture shifts some. At the Olympics, table tennis belongs to the Chinese. Lia wants to change that.
"She is so driven and so focused," Morales said. "And does her homework in this sport."
Lia does her homework at school too. Her father said she's an 'A' student. The young academician is strong in her books, bounces around like a tiger on the tennis table, but socially she's much softer.
"I'm really quiet to be honest," she said.
According to Lia, she's known her coach for over a year, and the conversation is limited.
"Her coach is like, Lia, would you please have a conversation with me one time?" Morales said. "She just smiles and smirks and just stays focused."
The admittedly shy teen is working on the weight of being bashful. She participates in activities that force her out of her comfort zone, like theater.
"I'm getting better," she said.
Shyness is common among youngsters. Her father said she's chatty when she gets comfortable.
The middle school student is as concerned about her words as she is about her game of table tennis.
"Like if I said something wrong or like if it offended them," she said. "I don't want it like to offend anybody or anybody to take it the wrong way."
Lia said when she came to the table tennis club, she spoke to no one. After playing many of the adult men and beating them, she's opened up more.
Her father believes, like with most kids, this is a phase.
"I feel she's going to be fine, and it's just a matter of it coming out whenever she wants it to," he said.
Table tennis is where Lia said she could be herself. She's ranked 13th in the nation for kids 13 and younger.
"Probably top 20% of players in Texas – all ages. All genders," Farcas said. "Probably be the first San Antonian that ever makes a national team in table tennis. And that says a lot."