Eckerman, Bell make their presence felt in collegiate debut
Aug. 27, 2011
Mary Kusek, Texas Media Relations
Although they had already been on The University of Texas campus for several months, it wasn’t until freshmen Khat Bell and Haley Eckerman stepped into Gregory Gym for Texas Volleyball team’s 2011 opener against Pepperdine that it finally sank in -- They’re here.
“All day we were talking about, ‘Wow, we’re here, we’re here,’ and then as soon as we stepped on the court we were like, ‘We’re really here,’” Eckerman said. “As soon as you step on that court, run out with the fans, it’s like, ‘Wow, we really are here, and it’s time to go.’”
Bell elaborated: “It was crazy. Once in the middle of the game when we were sitting on the bench, I kept thinking, ‘I cannot believe I am sitting here.’ I was thinking, ‘Focus, focus, focus.’ But I still had that same feeling I couldn’t get out of my head.”
The pair of outside hitters didn’t have much time to dwell on any anxiety surrounding their first game in a burnt orange uniform. When an injury to starting utility player Sha’Dare McNeal necessitated a change in game plan that found several Longhorns playing in positions previously unfamiliar to them, the freshmen were asked to adjust and make an immediate impact.
And make an impact they did, much to the delight of the rowdy crowd of 3,163. Bell and Eckerman stepped up to lead the Longhorns in kills for the match with 16 and 12, respectively. Bell also put forth an impressive effort on the defensive end by adding a team-high 17 digs.
The two credited in-game guidance and encouragement on the part of their upperclassmen teammates for calming their nerves and allowing them to contribute.
“[Head coach] Jerritt [Elliot] talks about how the upperclassmen need to lead us by example,” Eckerman said. “And towards the end, when we were kind of battling back and forth, they led by example, which helped us to calm down, relax and stay focused on the game and not worry about the play that just happened. They did a great job of just saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got the next one. Just relax on everything.’”
The grace under pressure exhibited by both Eckerman and Bell suggests a promising future for a program that has made a habit out of winning. But for now, the two are soaking it all in.
“The feeling is great,” Bell said. “You know this gym has such great fans. You know they’re loud and so outgoing. I loved it. There’s nothing like it.”