McNeal the 'glue' for top-seeded Volleyball
Dec. 1, 2011
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
AUSTIN, Texas -- Sha’Dare McNeal only plays the game of volleyball like it’s something she’s known her entire life. Believe it or not, McNeal didn’t grow up with volleyball in her veins, but a violin in her hands.
Athletics didn’t enter the picture until later -- thanks to a bit of mother’s intuition.
“I went to school, had recitals, that’s about it,” McNeal recalled. “In ninth grade, my mom decided I should give sports a try, so I signed up for the volleyball team.”
Of course, McNeal bloomed into a top-five national recruit who came to The University of Texas from her native California. She started all 33 matches last year as a sophomore, and was enjoying the best form of her career before a right knee injury sidelined her in the first match of this 2011 season.
McNeal returned to the Longhorns’ full rotation in early October, two matches into UT’s current 14-match winning streak. But McNeal’s presence has provided an offensive balance that is critical to the Longhorns’ winning ways.
With McNeal solidifying the right side, she gives UT a front row that must be reckoned with -- in the 12 matches since McNeal returned to front and back row play, UT is hitting .341 as a team. And all four of UT’s attackers are hitting at least .308, including McNeal’s team-best .468 mark.
“Sha’Dare doesn’t get a lot of accolades, individually, but she should because she’s our glue,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “She’s our best pin player who keeps us in system. What she’s able to do offensively, off of one foot, opens up our whole offense. You’ve got to send a blocker with her, which leaves Rachael (Adams) one-on-one and a lot of times our left side (hitters) one-on-one. When she wasn’t there, it was challenging.”
McNeal rarely attacks the net head-on, but rather off a curling slide play. Even with a bulky knee brace, McNeal is now jumping with such explosive control and poise that she appears to hang in the air before swiping the ball.
Her attacks often find the floor in a hurry, or as setter Hannah Allison would say, “She makes balls bounce.”
“It’s been awhile, getting into my rhythm, but I feel a lot more confident on the court and it shows,” said McNeal of this season’s recovery. “It’s nice to know that I have a role and an impact on my teammates. It’s nice to be out there playing.”
McNeal’s training on the violin and piano allowed her to experience the pressure of live performance at an early age. That explains her cool and calm demeanor, even in the most extreme competitive settings.
Consider also that McNeal -- who Elliott calls the team’s best ball-control player -- had never before played in the back row before joining the Longhorns.
“She’s part of what makes our team,” senior Rachael Adams said. “She does the things that hold us together.”