Hattis off to fast start for Horns

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Sara Hattis (15)) prpares to receive a set from Nicole Dalton (7). A former basketball standout, Hattis is adjusting to her new role playing volleyball for Texas. The Longhorns will take on Illinios Friday as part of Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

After only three months of club volleyball, freshman Sara Hattis walked onto the 40 Acres as Prep Volleyball’s No. 9 recruit in the nation in 2012. The New Mexico native was originally recruited by colleges across the country to play basketball. As a senior, Hattis was in the top 100 nationally for women’s basketball before deciding that volleyball was where she wanted to be.

“I played basketball my whole life, and I still love the game,” Hattis said of her decision to play volleyball in college. “It was a matter of the team and the school for me ... it ended up being volleyball because of Texas.”

In high school, Hattis was named the New Mexico Player of the Year for volleyball in her senior season. As a junior and a senior, she earned a spot on the all-state team in New Mexico. In her final season at Cleveland High School, she posted a .485 hitting average with 289 kills, numbers that would make any coach salivate.

In fact, although it is not widely known, Hattis is a triple threat. In high school she also competed with the track and field team during her junior and senior seasons. Her team won the state title in New Mexico during her senior season, with Hattis finishing second in the high jump.

Head coach Jerritt Elliott said Hattis has a quick arm swing, and he expects her to be one of the best blockers on the team.

“She is going to be special,” Elliott said. “Things are going to accelerate for her pretty fast. She is a big-time player. It just depends how quickly she adapts to the speed and physicality of our gym.”

Hattis is a 6-foot-4-inch middle blocker who has big hands and plays long. However, the quirky freshman, who has the ability to make the big plays on the court, barely talked when she first stepped onto the 40 Acres.

“She was really quiet,” said sophomore outside hitter Haley Eckerman. “We just kind of wanted to bring her actual self out.”

Not long after summer workouts began, Eckerman and fellow sophomore middle blocker Khat Bell took Hattis under their wing in an attempt to bring the personality out of the shy freshman.

“When she first got here, it was kind of like me, her and Eckerman,” Bell said of the trio.

Bell claims they are not like the Three Musketeers. Through their friendship, they have forced Hattis out of her shell and it has really shown.

“Sara, she’s just quirky,” Bell said. “She is not like Haley; she is not like me. She kind of fits in the middle; she balances us out.”

The No. 6 Longhorns will face No. 23 Illinois Friday in the first round of the Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational, hosted by the Longhorns at Gregory Gym. Over the weekend, Texas will play three games, one each against Illinois, the University of Cincinnati and the University of Central Florida.

Friday’s game against the Fighting Illini marks the sixth game against a ranked opponent so far this season. Against ranked opponents, the Longhorns are 3-2, the losses coming to No. 4 Penn State on the road and No. 14 Minnesota at home. As of last weekend’s match against Minnesota, Texas leads the nation in blocks per set at 3.46. This ranks fourth in the Texas record books.

The series record between the Illini and the Longhorns is tied at five games apiece. The two teams last met in December of 2010 when the Longhorns beat the Illini in five sets during the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship semi-final match played in Austin.