Last season, the TCU volleyball team started 13-0, won three tournaments and, by late September, had grown such a following that more than 2,500 fans crammed into the team’s University Recreation Center gym, lining the edge of the court to watch the team host then-No. 8 Texas.
Then the Frogs lost.
The Longhorns won in three sets and held TCU to under 20 points in each game. But the Frogs’ loss to Texas, an annual national title contender, wasn’t a wakeup call as much as it was a missed opportunity.
“We knew going into that match that it was going to be a tough match,” head coach Prentice Lewis said Saturday after the team’s annual alumni game. “I was just disappointed that our athletes, and our athletes were disappointed, that they didn’t come out and play the way they wanted to, especially with how awesome a crowd we had.”
This year, TCU will have a chance to redeem itself and not just against Texas, but against other elite programs as the Frogs enter the Big 12.
Three opponents on TCU’s schedule are ranked in the top 25 of the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll. Texas (No. 2) and Iowa State (No. 10) are both in the top-10, and Kansas State is ranked 22nd. Since all three are Big 12 members, the Frogs will play each team twice.
Competing at that level on a weekly basis will first mean replacing what they lost from a team that missed the NCAA tournament but finished 25-7 in 2011.
Starters Kristen Hester, Jordan Raines and Sarah Joeckel are all gone. Hester and Raines were seniors, and Joeckel, a redshirt junior last year, decided to forego her last season of eligibility due to a lingering finger injury.
Now, the Frogs will turn to seniors Megan Munce, Sloane Sunstrum and Megan Horio, as well as junior middle blocker Yvonne Igodan, who was named earlier this month to the preseason all-Big 12 team. Munce, who spent most of last season recovering from a season-ending injury the year before, is fully healthy and, as a fifth-year senior, will be relied upon as a key leader, Lewis said.
“Munce is our staple player,” Lewis said. “She wasn’t fully recovered until the end of last year. Going into this season, it’s going to be a great thing for her. Besides running the show, she will be an inspirational leader for all of us.”
Communication on the court will be key, Horio said. On Saturday, during the alumni match and the two inter-squad sets that followed, TCU had success in that area, Horio said.
“We passed well. We served well,” Horio said. “I think the most important thing for us is talking, and we did that really well, too.”
The Frogs open up their season Friday against Northern Colorado at the Belmont Invitational in Nashville. First serve is scheduled for 4 p.m. TCU will then play Alabama A&M on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. and Belmont at 6 p.m.
The following weekend, TCU will play in its own tournament, the TCU Nike Invitational, opening up Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. against SMU.
Freshman class best one yet, coach says
If you’re having to replace three key contributors, you might as well bring in some talent. The Frogs have done that, Lewis said.
“It’s our best recruiting class,” Lewis said.
Mary Capen, Alexia Heist, Trisha Langley, Blaire Pickens and Sutton Sunstrum, younger sister of Sloane, are all true freshmen this fall.
Since most volleyball programs typically wrap up their recruiting classes 1-2 years in advance, TCU hasn’t began seeing the effect of school’s move to the Big 12. Right now, any positive impact on the recruiting scene because of the new conference will likely be seen in more transfers wanting to come in, Lewis said. Still, this year’s freshmen class should be able to help out immediately.
“I will say all of our freshmen are impact players,” Lewis said. “They’re good players. We’re excited about it. Are they going to be as consistent all the time? No. But they’re going to have important roles.”
Travel changes in new league
Playing in the Big 12 means TCU won’t have to travel as far to away games, but it also means they’ll have to change how they get to those games. Instead of flying for the majority of their road trips, the Frogs will now be bussing to more games. That’s not always a good thing.
“You’re not ever comfortable on a bus,” Lewis said. “Even I’m not comfortable on a bus, and I’m 5-foot-3. I don’t even know what it would be like for our tall kids.”
Last year, playing in the Mountain West, the team had the luxury of flying to all of its conference road games, including having to take two separate planes to Boise. This year, as a way to adjust the travel changes, the Frogs will bus to games the day before, Lewis said.
Frogs, Horns scheduled for ESPNU slot
TCU’s home match against Texas on Oct. 31 will air on ESPNU. First serve is scheduled for 7 p.m. The Frogs’ Halloween match with the Longhorns will be one of four Big 12 games aired on the network. A fifth, Iowa State at Texas on Oct. 17, can be seen on Fox Sports Net.