By Elissa Schneiderman
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
The world of top-tier collegiate volleyball comes with a big stage and high stakes. Fortunately for the Texas Longhorns, they have a valuable tool in Sha'Dare McNeal. She's the lone senior and a stabilizing force for Texas volleyball.
"She's a very calm, steady person on the court," junior Bailey Webster said of her teammate. "She's never down. She's just a great person to play around."
Head coach Jerritt Elliott recognizes the significant impact McNeal's personality has on his team.
"She's good at communicating with [her teammates]," Elliott said. "She has a demeanor about her that's not too high or too low. She just has a calm appearance."
McNeal explained that her calmness comes naturally. She's always possessed a mellow disposition, but now, as the team's only senior, she understands the importance of her quiet leadership.
"We have people who are looking up to me and expecting me to play at the highest level that I can play," McNeal said. "[My role on this team is] being a leader and being that person who is constant."
In 2009, McNeal came to Texas as the No. 5 rated recruit in the nation, according to Prep Volleyball. When she arrived, she was a middle blocker, but over the course of her collegiate career, she's morphed into a utility player who is capable of playing six rotations.
"She's developed into one of the most complete players from beginning to end," Elliott said. "It's been fun watching her athleticism grow here and develop into the player that she is today."
McNeal's stability and reliability makes her the Longhorns' most essential player on and off the court. Not only does her presence have a calming influence on her teammates, but she's able to play almost anywhere in the rotation.
"She's the main person on our team because she can score, she can pass, and she [has a] great serve," said Webster. "She's in the entire match. She has a very crucial role and we look up to her for that."
McNeal's unique combination of varied skills and years of experience holds her team together.
"She's our glue right now," Elliott said. "She's our premier ball control player. She has a great volleyball I.Q. and can do so many different things. Her skill sets are a big part of why we're successful.
"We know what she can do on the court. She's very steady. It's more about [whether she can] make players around her better. She's doing that. That's the ultimate goal."
McNeal's preferred method of providing guidance to her team is through example. She sets the precedent for hard work at Texas.
She's the first to practice, the first one on the court and the first one ready for drills. In the weight room, she pushes herself to lift at the maximum her body will allow in order to encourage her teammates.
Likewise, in competition McNeal shows her teammates that consistency is one way to win big games.
"[By] not seeing me frustrated and knowing that we can win being calm, I try to show my team that in certain situations when it gets tough, it's okay to be steady," McNeal said.
McNeal hopes that her quiet, reliable leadership will guide her team to a successful season. She has her sights set on a Big 12 championship and national title. But in her senior year, she has other, more sentimental ambitions as well.
"I'm also [focused] on creating memories with these girls," McNeal said. "This team means everything to me. It's my last college year playing. So, practices and matches, they're just a blessing."