The score is tied. The crowd is roaring so loudly the young athlete can hardly hear the coach call her name and tell her to get on the court. Hours of practice have prepared her for this moment as she makes her way to her position.
The young athlete harnesses her high-strung nerves and panicked thoughts. She cuts the mental chatter. She needs to prove to everyone watching – her coach, her teammates, the opponents, the crowd, fans watching on television and even herself – that she belongs on the court.
Sophie Cram, Lacy Haddock and Veronica Jones are freshmen on the BYU women’s volleyball team. Each of them has received varying levels of playing time, but they all take every second on the court to show they are vital assets of the team. Head coach Heather Olmstead has noticed their drive and it’s made a difference in moving them from the bench to the court.
“They’re working hard at trying to get better and improve to get on the court,” Olmstead said.
Cram is a 6-3″ middle blocker and occasionally plays in place of nationally-ranked Whitney Young Howard and Amy Boswell. It might not seem like a big deal to have played in six sets out of four games with the latest game being against Portland, but to step into Howard and Boswell’s position for even a moment adds a lot of pressure.
“I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself,” Cram said. “For me, I just say, ‘Okay, Sophie, you’ve played volleyball for so long. You’ve been training so hard for this. You just need to go out there and own this opportunity. Take every point you can get.'”
Cram has three kills, 12 total attacks, one assist and one dig since the beginning of the season. She said she goes into each game prepared to play because she never knows when her teammates will need her. Cram believes she’s doing her part in helping her teammates get stronger and more ready to face their opponents by hitting the ball as hard as she can and making as many blocks as she can.
Cram does feel pressure to deliver, but her strong desire to play and represent BYU has helped her channel the pressure out.
“If my coach is giving me this opportunity (to play), I’m going to take it and I’m going to make it the best that I can because I want all the playing time she’s giving me,” Cram said.
Haddock has not only received more playing time, but also started several games in the outside hitter position. Even though she is a freshman, Haddock doesn’t see her freshman label as a hinderance to her ability to play.
“I don’t think of myself like, ‘Oh, I’m just a freshmen around a bunch of seniors,'” Haddock said. “I just try and think of how we’re all on the same team. It doesn’t matter how old we are. We all have the same goal and we are all playing on the same team. It doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman or a senior.”
The first game Haddock played in was against North Carolina. She went in to serve, missed it and went back on the bench. But Haddock didn’t dwell on the missed serve. The next game she played in was against Arkansas-Pine Bluff where she made 10 kills with 18 total attacks.
Many opponents purposely serve and attack to where she is on the court now that she’s starting games. She is less experienced than her teammates and many of the opponents, but Haddock is using her lack of experience as an opportunity to improve. She’s focusing on being consistent in her abilities, especially passing.
“I just kind of prepare like, ‘The ball is coming to me. Want the ball. Be happy that they’re seeing me, because I’m gonna pass it,'” Haddock said. “I just try to keep that mindset – that I hope they serve me and not shy away from it and own it, because I know it’s coming.”
Haddock has played in 33 sets in 14 games this season. She’s made 33 kills, 97 total attacks, six assists, 63 digs, one block solo and four block assists, since the game against No. 24 San Diego on Oct. 30.
Jones also plays in the outside hitter position and unlike most of her freshman teammates, she’s played since the first game of the season. Jones has played in 50 sets out of 19 games with Pepperdine being the latest game.
Jones remembers her first game, never expecting she’d make it to that point and feeling an immense sense of pressure to perform.
“When I first got here, I felt like I needed to prove myself,” Jones said. “Not only to my team so they’d feel confident in me, but also to myself to prove that I should be here and prove to my opponent that I’m someone they need to be worried about.”
And she has given opponents something to worry about. Jones has made 115 kills, 315 total attacks, one assist, 19 digs, three block solos and 24 block assists since the beginning of this season. Still, Jones remains humble about her success. She sees where she can improve, from ball control to the ability to “see the game.”
There’s been a vast amount of growth since her first game. Jones used to worry about what other people thought of her playing or the errors she’d make. But that’s no longer the case today.
“Now I’m just being the kid that they recruited, being the person that they wanted on the court instead of trying to fit in and trying to prove myself,” Jones said. “So now I’m more confident in myself instead of looking for confidence from other people.”
The other freshmen on the women’s volleyball team are Lyndie Haddock, Emily Lewis, Danelle Parady and Kiani Tuileta. Haddock has been able to play in six sets in four games. Parady has played in 24 sets in 10 games but she hasn’t played since the Loyola Marymount game due to an injury.
The young athletes are eager and anxious to make their way onto the volleyball court regardless of how much or how little playing time they receive. Playing time is limited and given to few. But many of the freshmen, Cram, Haddock and Jones included, have proven on the court that they are ready and willing to represent BYU and put up a fight.
“Everyone’s a part of the team, even if you’re not playing,” Olmstead said. “I think it’s just the mindset and wanting to contribute more to the team. They’ve really stepped up their game and challenged for that position.”