By Wes Moody
Big12 Campus Correspondent
Oklahoma freshman volleyball players Marion Hazelwood and Harley Kelly dreamed of playing college volleyball together. Luckily for the Sooners, that dream led to Norman.
Hazelwood and Kelly both grew up in the Houston area, Hazelwood in Beach City, Texas and Kelly in Friendswood, Texas just an hour away. Despite not attending the same schools the, two became fast friends when they both joined the same club team, Houston Stellar.
“We met playing club together,” Kelly said. “We lived an hour away from each other but, we both drove to play at a certain club. We were 13 when we started playing together.”
While both players blossomed into top recruits, they also built a friendship they knew they wanted to continue. When schools began calling, Hazelwood and Kelly started to consider going somewhere together.
“Playing together was always a huge possibility,” said Kelly. “We were recruited together and we visited schools together.”
“We have been playing together so long that we are used to each other,” Hazelwood said. “It makes it more comfortable and makes the transition easier.”
It was Kelly who first pulled the trigger and committed to Oklahoma. She was offered during an on-campus visit and by that evening she had made the decision to be a Sooner. Her first call? Her best friend, of course.
“She called me that night,” Hazelwood said. “She had just gotten back to the hotel and she said, ‘I thought I’d call and tell you first that I am committing’.”
Hazelwood took a few more visits before she too made the decision to join head coach Santiago Restrepo and the Sooners.
“Having her here had a lot to do with my decision,” Hazelwood said. “I knew that it would be my home away from home, being with my best friend. It’s not too far from home, but it’s far enough. We can’t just drive home like the Dallas girls can. I knew having my best friend would help a lot.”
Hazelwood arrived on campus in December, a full semester before Kelly. The time apart helped her value their friendship even more.
“I had to live a semester without her so that was hard,” Hazelwood said. “When she got here it was more like I had pictured. I felt like something was missing for the first semester. When she and the other freshmen got here it was really nice. It was just like I had pictured.”
Feeling homesick as a freshman can be as much a part of the college experience as dorm rooms and textbooks. For Hazelwood and Kelly, having a best friend along has helped to make the transition smoother.
“It can be hard to be homesick and not be with your family,” Kelly said. “She is like a sister to me and that has made my transition so much easier.”
Now both are on campus, working hard for coach Restrepo and OU. The chemistry they built together during four years of club play is now an asset for the Sooners.
“Playing together makes us close,” Kelly said. “We can read each other really well and we have the same mentality on the court. We really feed off each other when we play. It helps us be mentally strong. We have been through so much together already that we know we are on the same level.”
“We are very competitive,” Kelly continued. “We push each other and we can mess with each other out there. But even if we get defensive on the court we know when we come off the court we are still best friends. It’s really nice to have that best friend chemistry and to know she will always be there for me.”
Oklahoma will look to harness that chemistry as it seeks its sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance in 2014. Making that trip together would be the realization of a dream for Hazelwood and Kelly.
“Going to big tournaments with the club and going to [Junior Olympics] together and playing at the highest level of that age gave us a taste of what the NCAA tournament might be like,” Hazelwood said. “It would be even better to be on that stage playing with your best friend.”
“We have known since we were little that we wanted to play at the highest level we could with whatever team we were on,” Kelly said. “We got here together and we know that we can push each other even harder. We are working as hard as we can to get to the NCAA tournament. That’s something we have dreamed about since we were little.”