It looked as though the tallest player on the team was poised for another year as a spectator.
At 6-foot-4, sophomore middle blocker Sara Hattis, the No. 9 national recruit in 2012, looked to take the open job at middle blocker last year. But junior Khat Bell transitioned back to her natural position, and the No. 1 recruit from Hattis’ recruiting class, Molly McCage won the other spot.
Not only did neither Bell nor McCage graduate to create an open spot, but head coach Jerritt Elliott brought in the 2012 Gatorade Texas Volleyball Player of the Year, Chiaka Ogbogu — also a middle blocker.
“We see a lot of players pushing each other and we need to find opportunities for them,” Elliott said after the win against Oklahoma. “Sara Hattis is one of them. She has really been practicing well.”
But when given the chance, Hattis has taken full advantage of her opportunities.
Ogbogu made a position switch to opposite, filling the open spot vacated by the graduated Sha’Dare McNeal. Then, Bell suffered a right calf strain while warming up against Baylor, and her status is day-to-day.
So Hattis was given a chance to prove herself, and she had only one goal.
“I just want to go out there and make plays,” Hattis said.
That’s exactly what she did.
In her first expanded role of the season against Baylor, Hattis had seven kills in 10 chances. Wednesday night against Texas Tech, she recorded five kills in seven chances. Her hitting percentage is .387, well-above Elliott’s stated goal for the team, .315.
“I’m just trying to do what the coaches expect from me,” Hattis said.
The above-average hitting percentage, coupled with her long anticipated playing time, makes moments like these gratifying.
“I’m really enjoying myself out there, and I hope my teammates are too,”
While the in-gym competition is good for the competitiveness of the squad, it puts pressure on the coaches to hit the right buttons.
“We have great middles,” Elliott said. “They are making decisions difficult for the staff. It’s a great dilemma for the coaching staff.”
When No. 3 Texas (11-2, 4-0 Big 12) travels to Lawrence on Saturday to take on the only other undefeated team in conference, Elliott will have to make some decisions about his lineup.
“Nobody’s job is safe in our gym,” Elliott said. “We will go back and re-evaluate our lineup for Kansas on Saturday.“