Their joy quickly gave way to relief.
TCU volleyball players had spent the past several weeks in the sports purgatory known as “the bubble.” But on Sunday, they learned they were headed to the NCAA tournament for the second time in school history.
“It’s a weird feeling and it’s a weird day,” TCU coach Jill Kramer said. “I know the players are like, ‘We don’t want to be on the bubble anymore,’ because it can be stressful.”
Managing that stress was a new experience for Kramer. The focus became less scoreboard watching and more on the details of practice.
Coaches decided to draw eyes from the scoreboard in TCU’s home court. They didn’t keep score during drills.
“Not keeping score helps us focus point for point, which is what we needed to do,” junior Natalie Gower said. “We don’t need to be thinking about making into the tournament or two games from now. We really tried to focus on the next game, this current point, living in the moment right now.”
In the final two weeks of the season, TCU was 2-1, with 3-0 sweeps over Texas Tech and West Virginia, landing the 19-9 Horned Frogs in a tie with Kansas State for fourth in the Big 12.
The crowning achievement of TCU’s regular season was a 3-0 sweep of No. 2 Texas on Oct. 28, the school’s first win over a top-10 team and its first victory over the Longhorns in 11 meetings.
That focus will be put to the test by No. 7 Hawaii (26-1), which enters the match at Texas A&M’s Reed Arena at 4:30 p.m. Friday on a 21-match winning streak, and boasts the nation’s 19th best scorer in junior Nikki Taylor. Taylor averaged 4.36 kills a set.
“They have one player that is pretty significant for them,” Kramer said. “We’ve seen teams like that a little bit. We’ve had teams in our league. They rely on one person heavily and then have a great supporting cast.”
Just as she approached the final weeks of the regular season, Kramer’s focus is more on what TCU can control on its side of the net.
“At the point that we were at, rankings and scores, we just had to keep that out of our mind,” senior Alexia Heist said. “You just had to know that we were going to trust each other no matter what on the court and off the court to get done what we needed to get done. It’s gotten us to a pretty good spot.”
Travis L. Brown: email@example.com, @Travis_L_Brown.
TCU volleyball vs. No. 7 Hawaii
4:30 p.m. Friday, College Station