At 18 years old, Bailey Webster walked into Gregory Gym as the top volleyball recruit in the nation, leaving her high school in Maryland a semester early to begin her collegiate career at Texas.
Despite all that was expected of her, she took it in stride, choosing to focus on what she could do to improve her own performance as a player. “I didn’t put the pressure on myself,” Webster said. “I just knew I wanted to get better and try to be as good as I could be. There was still a lot of stuff I had to learn.”
Three years later, the junior outside hitter walks into that same gym each day, but with a bit more experience and knowledge on her side, the product of several eventful years full of triumphs and personal challenges. She played in 28 matches as a freshman, helping Texas sweep past the likes of Baylor, Nebraska and Texas A&M.
But in the preseason of her sophomore year, Webster suffered a season-ending injury that required knee surgery, recuperation and a test of character.
“It was life-changing for me,” she said. “I learned a lot about myself in that year. It made me such a stronger person on the inside. It was very beneficial and I think it happened for a reason.”
After receiving a medical redshirt for her sophomore season, Webster worked tirelessly to recover from the injury and get in shape. The payoff of her efforts was difficult to ignore: Webster played every match, won All-American first team honors and received Big 12 Player of the Year honors. She now serves as a team captain.
“My biggest challenge is in becoming a leader and making everyone around me better but also maintaining my ability and doing what I need to do to lead physically,” she said. “It can be a hard thing because you have to be positive even when you may not be playing the best. You lead by example, and it’s fun trying to make it all work at the same time.”
Four years on the team have allowed Webster to watch the Longhorns grow and change with new additions each year.
“Every year the dynamics are different, but we’ve always been a strong team and we’ve always been a close team,” she said. “That’s a definite plus about playing for Texas.”
This past weekend, she tallied 14 kills while sweeping Cincinnati. As the team heads into Big 12 play, Webster said ensuring the team’s preparation is a major goal.
“I’m really focused on us working well together,” she said. “We’re such a great team and we need to figure it out and make sure we’re well prepared.”
Athletics pulses through Webster’s blood. Both of her parents played college basketball, and her sister played volleyball for the University of Alabama. Despite her athletic pedigree, Webster said volleyball was her choice.
“I’ve always played sports, but we’ve always had the freedom to play what we wanted to play,” she said. “My family is more of a basketball family, so I definitely wasn’t pushed into volleyball. It was definitely my decision, and my family was behind me 100 percent.”
And although she was born in Texas, making the move from the East Coast to down south was a bit of an adjustment.
“There was a difference in the way people acted, how people were so nice here,” Webster said. “It’s subtle and people don’t notice it. I miss Maryland, but I love it here.”
Head coach Jerritt Elliott thinks Webster’s work ethic allowed her to bounce back and develop the leadership skills she shows every day on the court.
“She was extremely committed to coming back stronger,” Elliot said said. “Being a leader has been a big learning curve for her, but she’s got all the right values to lead. She’s got that ability where people just want to follow her. It’s been fun to watch.”
Printed on Thursday, September 20, 2012 as: Webster bounces back from injury