Touted freshmen find niche at Texas

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Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

For a freshman member of the Longhorns’ volleyball squad, everything is new: the classes, the buildings, the people and even the food.

On top of all that, there’s also the pressure of being put right in the center of the nation’s No. 5 team, surrounded by over 5,000 screaming fans on a weekly basis.

“For a freshman, it’s always difficult,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “It’s more just getting comfortable playing a college volleyball game because they grow up watching it, see it all, (and) the excitement.”

For freshmen outside hitter Lexi Sun and setter Ashley Shook, their journeys began on opposite sides of the country. Despite the distance, their paths still crossed.

Both players earned Under Armour High School All-American honors and played at the AAU Junior Volleyball National Championships before meeting each other in Austin.

“Our rooms are one room away, so we’re basically neighbors,” Sun said. “We’ve bonded a lot.”

However, reality quickly hit the Longhorns early in the season. A 3-1 loss to then-No. 12 Florida on opening night saw the duo have its poorest outing. A .036 hitting percentage for Sun, the 2016 Gatorade Player of the Year, was an unceremonious beginning to the outside hitter’s college volleyball career.

Texas spent most of its non-conference schedule on the road, including a trip to Southern California, where three of its coaches and players hail from. A dinner with the Sun family only helped reinforce a growing bond between the two freshmen and the rest of the team.

Now with the season well underway, Sun and Shook have already combined for three Big 12 freshman of the week awards, accounting for half of the conference’s weekly honors. They have also combined for 10 double-doubles through 13 games this year.

Looking past the numbers, Sun’s and Shook’s growth has been evident on the court. The tight situations that Minnesota, West Virginia and Baylor put Texas in forced the duo to maintain and develop composure.

“These experiences are great, especially early in big environments,” senior libero Cat McCoy said. “Playing Florida out in Florida for your first game, like that’s pretty intense.”

While the duo have gelled with the Longhorns seamlessly, there is still the awe that comes with being a freshman at one of the best volleyball programs in the country.

“I’ve been looking forward to it since I committed here,” Shook said. “It’s like a dream come true.”

Following Texas’ 3-0 sweep of Baylor last Wednesday, the duo not only showed their growth as teammates, but as friends too. Now their teammates are starting to take notice.

“It shows a lot about who they are,” McCoy said. “They’re just going to keep maturing and improving.”

The pair’s rise to the top of the Texas depth chart proves they don’t have the timidness of typical freshmen. And with three more years left to don the burnt orange, the noise level at Gregory Gym won’t be dying down anytime soon.