If you watched a Texas Advantage 17 Black match this season, you could likely pick out high school seniors-to-be Asjia O’Neal and Adanna Rollins as two of the team’s key offensive weapons.
O’Neal and Rollins helped lead TAV to the 17 Open gold medal at the recent USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championships in Minneapolis. TAV went 11-0 (22-5 in sets) en route to the top prize for the third year in a row in that age division. Rollins was named the tournament’s most valuable player, while O’Neal and teammate Katherine Clark joined her on the 17 Open all-tournament team.
But it wasn’t always roses on the volleyball court for O’Neal, who is headed to the University of Texas next year, nor Rollins, who is committed to Minnesota. Both are 2017 VolleyballMag.com 25 Underclassmen to Watch List representatives.
O’Neal, the daughter of former NBA player Jermaine O’Neal, didn’t take up the sport until middle school.
“I was pretty bad,” the 6-3 middle blocker said after a pool-play victory in Minneapolis. “I was really awkward, but I was still pretty young and getting used to how to play.”
Rollins, who started in the sport at age 10 and is a 6-foot outside hitter, turned her introduction-to-the-sport self-assessment up a notch.
“I was bad,” she said. “I think I made the fifth team the first time.”
Better results followed.
“I have spent a lot of hours in the gym,” said O’Neal, who also came back from heart surgery in 2013. “I’ve put in a lot of reps.”
Rollins added: “It’s a lot of practices and camps and I’ve had a lot of different coaches improve my game.”
The two, who attend different high schools (more on that in a second) in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs, first met during their 14s year.
“Asjia has a lot of energy and is really focused and really aggressive,” Rollins said.
O’Neal added about her friend: “Adanna’s a versatile player and a good blocker. She’s really good. She’s a beast.”
The two agree they have benefitted greatly from the teaching of TAV 17s coach Ping Cao, who is quickly becoming the Bill Belichick of girls’ club-volleyball coaching with five national titles in the last eight years.
“Ping is a really good coach,” Rollins said. “He focuses on the technical stuff. The first practice we had we started with passing. He wants everything to be perfect. Even if you make an error, as long as the technique is there, he’s happy with that.”
O’Neal added: “He’s been really big for us. He makes us work on blocking a lot and makes sure our technique is as perfect as possible.”
During the high-school season, O’Neal and Rollins crossed paths plenty of times last fall. O’Neal will be a senior at Carroll in Southlake, while Rollins will be a senior at Hebron in Carrollton.
They played five times last year (Hebron held a 3-2 edge) with O’Neal’s Carroll team winning a Texas district title in a tiebreaker match over Hebron and Rollins’ Hebron team defeating Carroll in a regional final on its way to winning the Class 6A state title where Rollins was named the state tournament MVP. It was Hebron’s second state title in a row and it became the third team in six years to win consecutive state titles at the state’s top classification.
“We won the district,” O’Neal said.
“State is better,” Rollins said with a laugh.
O’Neal and Rollins are excited about what lies ahead for them in terms of college opportunity. But both take a much different approach when talking about their futures, one centered more on the immediate.
“I’m blessed that I am going to play in college,” O’Neal said. “But I know I have a lot of work to put in to get better before I go to college. I have to get better.”
“It means a lot to me, but I know it’s going to be a challenge,” Rollins said. “I’m up for challenges. I know I am going to have to work very hard to earn a spot. It’s going to be fun working in the gym and working to get better.”
O’Neal and Rollins had plenty of fun this year and have the gold medals to prove it.