TCU hopes to build off late-season success to make a 2018 NCAA run

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TCU coach Jill Kramer in a match against SMU last season/Sharon Ellman photo

Jill Kramer is TCU proud. So it’s not hard for her to make a recruiting pitch.

“Environment. Attention. Academics. And a nationally contending volleyball program,” she said and smiled.

“All those things. But at TCU it’s special because I went to school here, so I really know what it’s like. And probably the best thing about it that makes my job easiest is that every kid who comes here has a relationship with their professors that’s productive. They want to help them learn and grow to the best of their ability and work with them.”

It doesn’t hurt that Texas Christian University in Forth Worth is the smallest school in the Big 12.

“The (student-faculty) ratio is 13-1,” Kramer continued. “And our staff is very involved.”

Certainly that doesn’t make them unique, but there is definitely a family feel to TCU volleyball, a team that should be on the rise in 2018. The Horned Frogs, young and often injured, took their lumps in 2017, finishing 15-17 overall, 4-12 in the Big 12. That included two losses each to Texas, Baylor, Kansas, and Iowa State but then a nice run in the Triple Crown Sports NIVC.

“We had five freshman,” Kramer said. “The rest of the team had been a part of the NCAA team the year before, but not any of our six-rotation players.

“It was great for them to see what postseason is like. It goes into December. They’ve got that under their belt and that’s a good thing.”

TCU took full advantage of the TCS NIVC, beating Wyoming, North Texas and Green Bay before losing to Texas Tech in the semifinals.

“This was not the way we wanted to end our season for sure, but I think our team made a great run here at the end of the NIVC and played really hard,” Kramer said that night. “We played our best volleyball at this point in the season which is what you want.”

Kramer, formerly the head coach at West Virginia, goes into her fourth season at TCU with four seniors,  one junior, a whopping 10 sophomores, and three freshmen.

“We return the bulk of our squad and our spring was tremendous,” she said.

TCU lost three seniors, two setters and a DS. Two incoming freshmen should be impact players.

Élan McCall is a 6-foot outside from Leander, Texas, who graduated early and enrolled for the TCU spring semester and “jumps out of the gym and is very, very skilled. Really quick and just a joy to be around,” Kramer said. The other freshman is 6-3 Katie Clark from Arlington who gives Kramer plenty of options, since she’s been a middle but can also play outside and right side.

TCU also picked up a transfer this season when setter Ashley Kozer left Loyola Maryland after her freshman year.

Anna Walsh-TCU-Horned Frogs
Anna Walsh led TCU in kills in 2017/TCU photo

Kills leader Ann Walsh is back for her senior year. The 6-2 middle had 328 kills (2.98 per set), hit .308, and led the team in blocks with 122, 10 solo.

Kramer said the product of Grapevine, Texas, who played as a freshman at Virginia, “will be a huge leader for us this year. Her game just keeps getting better and better.”

Abigail Buckingham — “a beast” who played for the same club as the young Kramer, Alamo — is a 6-1 outside from San Antonio who averaged 2.45 kills last season. Kramer was glad she not only had a strong spring, but that she’s healthy, since Buckingham had two ACL surgeries before she got to TCI and another surgery since.

Ashleigh Martin is a 6-1 senior outside from McKinney, Texas, who was second on the team with  264 kills (2.40 per set), but she hit .133. Martin had 50 blocks and averaged 1.27 digs.

Lexi MacLean is a 6-2 senior outside from Frisco, Texas, who played her first two seasons at Arizona State. Last year, she had 185 kills (2.08 per set), 29 blocks and was second on the team in digs per set at 2.06.

Allye Beth Deaton is a 6-1 outside from Waco who had 198 kills (3.0 per set) and averaged 1.27 digs.

Among the other returners is sophomore setter Tori Dilfer, a 5-10 product of San Jose, Calif., whose father, Trent, had a 13-year NFL career as a quarterback that included winning the 2000 Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens.

Tori Dilfer, part of a 6-2 last year, hopes to run a 5-1 this season, but will get competition from Kozer.

All of them know that their coach may talk the talk, but in her day walked the walk.

Kramer (1996-99) was the first scholarship volleyball player on the inaugural TCU team in 1996, one of 10 in that freshman class. Three made it all the way through. Kramer still holds the single-season and career school records in kills and total attacks.

Her resume includes stops as an assistant at UTSA, Alabama and Virginia before taking over at West Virginia in 2010 for five seasons.

TCU, which left the Mountain West for the Big 12 in 2012, was 17-15, 6-10 in the conference in 2014, the year before Kramer came back.

In 2015, her first year, the Horned Frogs went 19-10, 9-7, and lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in five to Hawai’i. Then in 2016, they went 15-13, 7-9, and got another at-large NCAA bid. The Frogs beat Wichita State before losing to Nebraska. The only other time the program went to the NCAA Tournament was in 2009.

Last year was tough, but Kramer thinks the Horned Frogs, while young, could be in the NCAA discussion again in 2018.

If nothing, she and the seniors — Walsh, MacLean, Martin and Mexican middle Paty Valle — have been through it together.

“When you come in as an alumnus you can say that I’ve been in your shoes and I know what this place is about,” Kramer said. “And we all want the same thing for this program, so let’s get to work. How are you going to leave your legacy?

“That was the easiest thing for me to get across to that group and they bought in and followed us from the beginning. It was really, really great who they trusted us from the beginning.”

Click here to watch the TCU 2017 season video.

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