A journey, well worth the wait
Dec. 15, 2008
Janice Lu, Texas Media Relations
Though they were honored weeks ago in the Longhorns regular season closer, seniors Kiley Hall and Lauren Paolini said their real final farewells to Gregory Gym, their volleyball home for the past four years, on Saturday night at the NCAA Austin Regional.
And what a finish.
After defeating Iowa State, 3-1, in the NCAA Austin Regional, Paolini and Hall are finally going on a trip they have sought after for years. A trip to Omaha, the site of this year's NCAA Volleyball Championship, as members of the third-ranked Texas volleyball team.
"It's been an amazing journey," Paolini said. "We've been there for each other the whole way and we've just been through so much together."
The journey began when Hall and Paolini, left their home state of California and Michigan, respectively, to invest in head coach Jerritt Elliott's Texas volleyball program.
"Kiley and I didn't know what it was going to be like because they weren't 'final four' caliber when we came in," Paolini said. "But we had to take a leap of faith in the program and come in and work our hardest. To be here today is so worth it."
Turns out they landed on good territory. Every year that Hall and Paolini have been at Texas, the goal has been to win a national championship, and every year the team inched closer to actually seeing the goal fulfilled.
After bowing out in the second round their freshman year, the seniors experienced two near-misses the following years, reaching the round of eight before falling in the regional finals.
They made sure that didn't happen this year, doing all they could to help propel Texas in its run for the National Championship.
After earning All-America accolades her junior year en route to setting a new single season record in hitting percentage, Paolini rewrote the record books with an even stronger senior year. Through 31 matches, Paolini, who earned her second All-Big 12 honor this year, is hitting .484, well on pace of besting her own mark of .419 set last season. As one of the team's tri-captains, Paolini is a force to be reckoned with at the net.
Just take her performances in the last two games as an example. Against UCLA, Paolini registered a team-high 17 kills. The next night, she chipped in nine kills and two solo blocks against Iowa State en route to earning NCAA Austin Regional Most Outstanding Player honors.
Not to be overshadowed is Hall, who throughout her career has patiently played as a reserve and provided the team with consistency and maturity. Though her accolades are few compared to Paolini's, it might be safe to say that Texas would not have made it this far without Hall's performance down the stretch.
A defensive specialist who is also one of the best servers on the team, Hall saw action in all eight of the Longhorns' most recent sets, tallying 10 digs against UCLA and adding six more against the Cyclones.
After clearing their latest hurdle, the Longhorns know that once they arrive in Omaha, things start from scratch and anything and everything is possible. The one thing they know that will not change is that their seniors, who are the winningest class ever with 104 wins, are ready to do whatever they can to help the team accomplish their ultimate goal.
"The National Championship has been our number one goal for a long time," Paolini said. "That is definitely what we all came here for, to win a National Championship. I feel so much closer to that and it's so exciting."