By Tyler Godwin
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
National champion. AVCA All-America Honorable Mention selection. All-Big 12 First Team choice. Big 12 All-Freshman Team selection. Number 1 high school recruit in the nation. Two-time captain of the United States Girls’ Youth National Team that won gold in 2010. High school All-American.
After reading junior middle blocker Molly McCage’s accolades, one would think she’s loved volleyball her entire life, but that’s not the case. In fact, McCage hated the sport when she first started playing.
“I was terrible,” McCage said. “I was really bad. I begged my dad not to take me to practice. I wanted to be on the B team, because I thought I wasn’t good enough.”
But that was McCage as a 5-foot-5 seventh grader.
“I couldn’t get my limbs to work,” McCage said. “I couldn’t serve the ball over the net. It was so bad. I felt like a baby giraffe.”
A sudden growth spurt left McCage at a towering 6-1 by the end of that year. Although growth spurts are never easy, she knew she had a gift.
“Everyone kept telling me, this is the sport for you,” McCage said. “I loved it from then on, and I always wanted to get better.”
McCage has continued to get better and has been reliable ever since she stepped onto the Forty Acres. Off the court, she has excelled in her academics, earning a spot on the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll four times.
She has also been consistent on the court, only losing seven matches so far in her career. She also leads the Longhorns in blocks at 1.28 per set.
“Blocking is my favorite part of the game,” McCage said. “Trying to get as many blocks for my team is way more important to me than getting hits.”
McCage also ranks fourth on the team in kills and hitting percentage. Not only is she one of three Longhorns who have played in every set this year, but during her three years at Texas, only two-time National Player of the Year and three-time All-American Haley Eckerman has played in more frames.
As it is with any college player, the transition from high school wasn’t easy.
As a freshman, having All-American outside hitters in Eckerman and Bailey Webster was intimidating, but she knew she had to hide her fears in the postseason. It was that year that Texas won the national championship and the Longhorns needed every one of McCage’s eight blocks and four kills in the championship match victory against Oregon.
“I remember [former associate head coach] Salima [Rockwell] being like, ‘just focus on your blocking and be that rock for this team,’” McCage said. “And I remember thinking, ‘Yeah that’s going to be my contribution to this game’ and it worked out.”
It was this mentality that earned her Big 12 All-Freshman Team honors in 2012. She hasn’t stopped there.
In her three years, Texas has averaged over three blocks per set each year, which has ranked in the top five in the nation every season (No. 2 in 2014, No. 3 in 2013, No. 5 in 2012). During her senior year of high school, the Longhorns averaged only 2.7 blocks per set, ranking 12th in the nation.
McCage says the team focuses on defense a lot in practice, which keeps them disciplined throughout a match.
“Every touch counts,” McCage said. “Every rep counts and I don’t think we should ever take an opponent for granted.”
Aside from winning the national championship, McCage also remembers when Texas lost the Big 12 season finale that year at Iowa State.
“It was a punch in the face,” she said. “I know it’s weird to say since we lost that game, but that loss helped us stay calm and persevere through the NCAA Tournament. It grounded us. I don’t think we would have won [the national championship] if we won that match.”
A selfless captain of the team, McCage has been working on her leadership skills, ensuring that everybody is on the same page in tough, intense games. She has made it a priority to reach out to the newcomers and help them with their game.
“She is definitely a leader on and off the court for me,” freshman Mirta Baselovic said. “I would call her my mentor. She helps me with my blocking and helps me with whatever I need to improve on. She made the transition from high school easier for me.”
As for her own game, she strives to be a bigger force on the court.
“I know in past years, consistency is my huge thing,” McCage said. “That’s what I want to be as a volleyball player. I’ve never tried to get those individual accolades, but I’m always trying to be consistent for my team. Because for me being consistent, that develops trust with my team, so they know who I am on the court.”
Through 10 matches this season, McCage has come up big for Texas several times in crucial matches. She recorded nine blocks and nine kills at No. 11 Florida. She posted six blocks and six kills to beat No. 9 Nebraska on the road in five sets. She also notched seven blocks and six kills in the Big 12 opener at West Virginia, including a kill to clinch the match in the fifth set.
On a team that breeds All-Americans, McCage has found her role and has relished in it. From “baby giraffe” to 2014, there is no limit to how much she can contribute to the present and future of Texas volleyball.