Young and dangerous: How first-years McCall, Clark overcame adversity, outmatched expectations

0
791

Print Article
McCall’s strong first season has her head coach hopeful for the team’s future. Photo courtesy: GoFrogs

TCU Volleyball stars outside hitter élan McCall and middle blocker Katie Clark dominated the Big 12 this year, despite playing in just their first collegiate season.

Both players were high school standouts, but developed later in their careers and the recruiting cycle. Head coach Jill Kramer said this allowed TCU to sign them before programs with higher acclaim took notice of them.

Despite the late development, both players finished as some of the best to ever play at their respective high schools.

McCall, a Leander, Texas native, played at Rouse High School. She totaled more than 1,000 kills and digs in her career and led her team to a state championship her senior year. Selected for the 2017 Under Armour Girls High School All-American team, she was ranked No. 76 on the PrepVolleyball.com’s Senior Aces list.

Despite living about 26 miles from the University of Texas, one of the nation’s top volleyball programs, McCall was not recruited heavily by the Longhorns.

Knowing she wanted to play collegiate volleyball since her sophomore year of high school, she felt at home in Fort Worth, making her transition easy.

Clark attended Arlington High School, just 15 miles outside of Fort Worth and had TCU on her mind since day one. She finished her career with a school-record 2,329 kills, leading her to be ranked No. 53 on the Senior Aces list and the No. 11 player in Texas by FloVolleyball.

Along with her record kills total, Clark also had outstanding numbers when it came to blocks, digs, and service aces. Kramer called her one of the best “utility” players in Texas when she recruited her.

Despite coming into Fort Worth with already outstanding pedigrees, both McCall and Clark knew they had something to prove as the new kids on the block.

“Here, everyone’s held accountable,” McCall said.

Clark said that while many of her high school teammates may have been playing the sport simply for fun, each of her college teammates has a specific job.

“In college, everyone’s here for a purpose,” Clark said.

A little overwhelmed at first, each player said that the veterans on the team went above and beyond to make sure they would have the smoothest transition possible into college life and athletics.

“Everybody’s so open and friendly,” Clark said. “They’re always willing to help you and always there for you.”

McCall made her presence known right away. The Horned Frogs opened the season with four matches as part of the Cowtown Classic and the young outside hitter totaled 59 kills and won Co-MVP of the event with her teammate, middle blocker Anna Walsh.

Outside hitter Élan McCall’s hot start had TCU at 8-3 going into conference play. Photo courtesy of gofrogs.com

McCall went on to have double-digit kills for the next 12 matches, earning four Big 12 Freshman of the Week awards in the first six weeks of the season.

Clark did not start the season on quite that kind of track. Battling injuries that had plagued her through high school, the middle blocker was limited for all of non-conference play and into conference, totaling just 55 kills in her first 10 matches combined.

“When I first came in, it was kind of hard to accept the fact that I couldn’t play yet,” said Clark. “I took it day-by-day. I just had to trust the process.”

Clark trusted the process as she dominated the seventh week of Big 12 play. She was awarded Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week and Big 12 Rookie of the Week after totaling 17 kills in a five-set loss to No. 4 Texas and a career-high 20 kills in a four-set victory over Texas Tech. This was only the 10th time in Big 12 history that a rookie had won both awards in the same week.

After battling injury herself, middle blocker Katie Clark gave TCU life while McCall missed time with injury. Photo courtesy of gofrogs.com

Just as Clark was heating up, McCall went down with an injury of her own. She would go on to miss or be limited in seven matches, five of which the team lost.

Although McCall missed time, she knew the struggle would make her a better player in the future.

“I just knew this was going to help me in the long run,” said McCall.

Once McCall was able to return, the young duo shined together. TCU won two of their final four matches during that time, and the first-years combined for 102 kills. McCall also had four-straight double-doubles and earned both Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week in the second to last week of conference play.

McCall would finish with a team-high 370 kills on the season, while Clark finished third on the team with 192 kills and 52 blocks.

Although the Horned Frogs missed the NCAA tournament with a record of 15-12, the last four matches showed what kind of offensive firepower and success TCU could find when their team played together at full health.

After the season, McCall was a unanimous selection for the All-Big 12 First Team and All-Big 12 Rookie Team. Although Clark did not receive any awards, Kramer knows that her strong play will be rewarded in the future.

“We’re going to see a lot of great things happen while we’re still here,” Kramer said. “The future’s bright for our program. It’s something to be excited about.”