By: Anup Shah
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Ashley Engle didn’t know what to do.
Having never played volleyball, the seventh-grader stood in the middle of the court at her first practice while her team ran through its routine drills.
“She broke down in tears,” Mark Engle, Ashley’s father, said. “She had absolutely no idea where to go.”
But it didn’t take her long to adjust. Just a year after her first practice, Engle started terrorizing opponents the way she has done at Texas for three seasons.
“Her next season as an eighth grader, in the first match and the first set of the season, Ashley went up and crushed a ball into a little girl’s face on the other side and knocked her over backwards,” Mark Engle said. “She had such a huge growth curve when it came to learning and competing in volleyball.”
Engle’s quick grasp of the game hasn’t been anything out of the ordinary. The junior from Yorba Linda, Calif., has a sense of commitment and intensity that has helped carry her to All-American status in 2006 as a freshman in her first season at Texas.
After the No. 4 Longhorns lost to Oklahoma at home for the first time last week, nobody was more distraught than Engle.
“I don’t block it out. I use it to drive me,” Engle said. “Volleyball is my life and winning is my life and if I don’t win it’s just a really bad day, bad week, bad month.”
The 6-3 junior is harder on herself after matches than anyone else – even after a victory.
“She would worry about the one percent of things she didn’t do well rather the 99 percent of things she did do right,” Mark Engle said. “We have to tell her to take a breath and be realistic about her own abilities.”
On the court, Engle followed in the footsteps of her older sister Sarah – four years older and a four-year letterwinner at Delaware. Even though Sarah used to make Ashley pay to hang out with her, the two have become best friends.
The bond between the two sisters grew especially strong while Ashley was being recruited to Texas – a place she initially had no interest in. But seeing how beneficial the independence had been for her sister, Ashley finally decided Austin was the place for her.
“When I was looking to her and confiding in her, she said leaving was the best thing she’d ever done because it made her grow up, depend on herself, not always having to go to mom and dad for everything,” Engle said.
With Engle being the No. 3 high school recruit in the country in 2005, Texas coach Jerritt Elliott knew the impact Engle would have before she even arrived on the Forty Acres – and he was more persistent than any coach in the country.
“She was definitely one of the big program changers,” Elliott said. “She’s our ball control glue type of player that’s so important to this team.”
Three years later, Elliott is seeing the fruits of Engle’s decision. Elliott’s dry sense of humor combined with Engle’s witty sarcasm has created a strong bond between the two.
“She’s got such a level head on her shoulders,” Elliott said. “You’re able to have really good conversations with her. She’s sarcastic, she’s funny, she’s confident, and she’ll be the first to make fun of herself.”
Once Engle's college career ends, the next step will be international competition. Her sister’s boyfriend, Kevin Hansen, won a gold medal with the men’s volleyball team at the Beijing Olympics and often talks to Ashley about what it takes to compete at the international level.
“It would be great but it would mean she’d have to be one of the 12 best in the country,” Mark Engle said. “To do that would be a giant goal.”
Still, with all the possibilities that lie ahead, Engle still has unfinished business at Texas.
“A Big 12 championship and a national championship,” Engle said. “That’s something every athlete here competes for.”