Grad student adds depth to injury-plagued team

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The Longhorn’s season-long injury problems were enough for the selection committee to pin the team with a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament, citing a lack of depth.

But having a player like senior outside hitter Lauren Dickson on the roster makes depth less of a pressing concern for the Horns.

While the fifth-year senior’s volleyball journey has been anything but conventional, her ability to step onto the court and perform at a moment’s notice may be crucial to the team’s success in the playoffs.

“It’s critical,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We’ve had so many injuries, and Lauren has a really good volleyball IQ. She brings a lot of knowledge to the court, and she’s a nice player.”

Dickson arrived on the 40 Acres after four illustrious years at the University of Virginia, where she was the team’s captain and MVP her senior year. After graduating with a business degree, she was accepted into UT’s top-ranked Masters in Professional Accounting program. Because of an ankle injury during her sophomore year, Dickson was granted a medical redshirt waiver — something she had originally not planned to use. But after a request from Elliott and some paperwork, Dickson was suddenly donning burnt orange.

For most of the season, Dickson has been used primarily as a serving specialist, subbing in for one play per rotation. She said she has had fun trying to find a new role, while still competing every day in practice.

“Learning a new role is sometimes challenging, but it’s been good to try to figure out how I can contribute to the team differently than I may have contributed to my Virginia team,” Dickson said. “[At the same time], I try not to get comfortable in a certain role because I don’t want to be satisfied with what I have. It’s important to always be pushing and trying to improve your game, which improves the team.”

Dickson’s work in practice paid off, as she was thrust into the regular rotation after an injury to junior outside hitter Amber Roberson, starting matches against Baylor, Texas Tech and Kansas.

She posted an eight-kill, 11-dig effort against the Red Raiders and put together 15 digs against the Bears; just one short of her career high.

Senior middle blocker Jennifer Doris, who played on a high-performance club team with Dickson once in high school, said Dickson’s experience and defense have been a boon for the team.

“Lauren’s a great player,” Doris said. “At Texas we say you never know when your number is going to be called, and for her to step up means a lot to us.”

Being a graduate student-athlete has its own challenges, as Dickson has to balance playing for a top-10 team in the country with finding a job — which sometimes means running from practice to a recruiting event. She said Elliott has been flexible, and she feels many of her skills on the court will pay off in the corporate world as an auditor.

“I think [recruiters] like seeing you’re an athlete,” Dickson said. “A huge thing is time management and being able to handle everything. [Also] you’re working in teams so they like to see that they know how to work with people, and hopefully once I start, those skills will transfer over.”

Despite being the oldest player on the team, Dickson said she relates well with the freshmen, as she’s both a new face on the team but also has a past experience of being away from home. An Austin native, Dickson still holds records at local volleyball powerhouse Westlake High School.

She said while she misses some aspects of Virginia — such as having four distinct seasons — she’s glad to be back.

“I go home every Sunday and do laundry and just kind of hang out with my parents,” Dickson said. “It’s definitely good to be home.”