Eckerman embraces role as mother, team leader

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Eckerman hits the ball against TCU. Her family, including young son, moved from Iowa to Austin to spport her and her career.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

For most high school seniors, leaving home is a time filled with jitters, excitement and the prospect of a new chapter of life in college.

For Haley Eckerman, departing for college meant leaving something else behind: her young son, Cayden. As the No. 5 volleyball recruit in the nation, Eckerman left home in Waterloo, Iowa to pursue a collegiate athletic career at Texas, keeping in touch with her tight-knit family through Skype.

After the birth of her son before her senior year of high school, Eckerman said thoughts of abandoning her college plans never crossed her mind.

“It was just what’s the best thing to do, and it was to go to college,” Eckerman said. “My goal was to get a college degree, and I knew volleyball had to be a part of that.”

Eckerman burst onto the Texas volleyball scene as a freshman and reaped accolades early on. In her first year on the team, she became the second player in Texas history to be awarded national freshman of the year honors. She played in every match, leading the team in kills, kills per set, service aces and points.

Eckerman’s mother, sister and son remained in Iowa during her freshman year and traveled to games when they could. This summer, the family relocated to Austin.

“It’s just nice to come home and have a meal with my mom and just be comfortable and know everything is going good,” Eckerman said.

Her mother, who never missed a high school match, remains a faithful supporter, attending every home game. Cayden, 2, comes along to watch his mom play.

“I’m home every night,” Eckerman said. “Except when we travel.”

These days, the sophomore outside hitter continues to reign on the court. She was awarded Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week earlier this season after scoring a team-high 16.5 points against Oklahoma. This week, she earned the honor again after tallying a team-high 13 kills against TCU. She ranks first in the league in points and overall contests in conference-only matches and also heads the league in kills in overall matches. Eckerman now holds nine career conference awards from her two years at Texas.

“Haley is a phenomenal player and she has a lot of special tools,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said of Eckerman. “She’s really started to increase her range as an attacker. Her overall game continues to improve and it’s nice to see.”

Tremendous personal accomplishments aside, Eckerman said her focus still rests on team goals.

“It’s getting to that Big 12 championship, just working as a team and doing the right things to continue to get better,” Eckerman said.

Despite attending college far from home, Eckerman said her teammates have provided tremendous support, aiding her development as a player.

“I didn’t imagine all of this as a senior,” she said. “My teammates are just a big support. I just feel like it’s my family away from home.”

And when it comes to her role as a mother, Eckerman said she hopes to instill the same values she’s carried with her as a player and a person in her son.

“I just want him to be good at whatever he wants to do,” Eckerman said. “Just to go for his goals.”

Printed on Friday, October 12, 2012 as: Eckerman play fueled by family