Armstrong's new shoes fit to a "Tea"
Entering the 2005 campaign, sophomore Leticia Armstrong was asked to step in and fill some pretty big shoes left behind by the graduation of All-American middle blocker Bethany Howden. And already this season, they seem to be a perfect fit.
Only 40 percent of the offense still don the burnt orange and white from the UT volleyball team that went to the 2004 NCAA Sweet 16. Howden, a four-year starter who concluded her career third on the Texas career kills list, was a substantial part of the success and the Longhorns began the season knowing they had a lot of offense to replace in order to even be in a position to replicate its success last year.
An added speed bump on the road to success was that the Horns only had one senior on the roster and no player had more than two years of collegiate experience under her belt. Seven of the 12 players were freshmen or sophomores.
Logging quite of bit a practice time between her redshirt and freshman years, Armstrong's hard work and focus has proven to be a welcomed contribution to the 2005 Longhorns squad in its search for identity. Through the first seven matches of the season, Tea (as she's known to her teammates) has developed into a force to be reckoned with.
"This year, I had to come out and do my part to show everyone that, even though our team is young, we are just as strong, just as fast and just as aggressive as any one of our competitors," Armstrong said.
Since the start of the 2005 season, Armstrong, whose name could not describe her more perfectly, has demonstrated her progression from reserve and role player to starter and leader on the court. She has been on a tear, demolishing statistics she posted as a freshman in 2004 while slowly becoming a more favored option in the Horns' attack.
As a redshirt freshman in 2004, the 6-foot-1 middle blocker played in 16 matches for a total of 29 games. She swung for 17 kills on 44 attacks with a hitting percentage of .227. At the net, she added 15 blocks - two solo and 13 block assists. Her highest kill total was three, which she collected against LSU early in the season. Blocks? Three on three different occasions.
This year, it's been a big difference. Armstrong has started all seven matches and has played in all 25 games. In that brief time, she has already tallied 70 kills on 116 attacks and has doubled her previous career blocking totals with 31 - seven solos and 24 block assists. And don't ignore the fact that Armstrong is second in the Big 12 Conference in hitting percentage - behind teammate Brandy Magee - with a .422 mark.
On Sept. 14, Armstrong exploded for 24 kills on 34 attacks against Colorado, establishing brand new career highs in both categories and leaving CU head coach Pi'I Aiu only shaking his head.
Armstrong's thunderous swing on the slide isn't the only things leaving opponents shaking their heads. Her blocking has also picked up. Armstrong is currently ranked eighth in the Big 12 in blocking, averaging 1.24 blocks per game.
"I had to work on a lot during the last two years and had some growing up to do as an athlete," Armstrong admitted. "The team had a big hole to fill with Bethany (Howden) gone and I knew I had to make sure I could take care of that."
With her growth during the past two seasons, Armstrong found a sense of confidence that she uses in every play. But even with her new awareness, Armstrong knows not to get ahead of herself.
"I tell myself each time I go up that I am going to make the block or hit it hard. But if it doesn't happen as planned, I now am able to recognize the adjustments that have to be made so it's successful next time," Armstrong said.
By coming out and playing how she has wanted since coming to Texas, Armstrong is proving to be the special talent Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott knew he found when he was recruiting her in 2002 and 2003 out of Elkhart, Ind.
After the Colorado match on Wednesday night, Elliott said, "When we recruited Tea, we knew she was a special talent. She's a player who's logged a lot of practice time between her redshirt year and her freshman year and she's used all that time to get better and improve her game."
"I know there is always room for improvement for myself and the team," Armstrong stated. "But coming out and playing awesome is something I know we are all capable of. It's something we all plan to do as we get into our conference schedule."
With new leaders, like Leticia Armstrong, replacing the talented seniors of last year, age does not seem to intimidate the team of 2005.