The Oklahoma volleyball season is nearing its end, which means it is time for At The Net to catch up with the graduating class. Second up is Texas native Yvette Villanueva. Check back in the upcoming weeks for the final senior feature on Christina Maynes.
All seniors would like to say that they walked off the court for the final time with their head held high. Since the end of the 2002 season, Yvette Villanueva has been pursuing that goal.
If she keeps up her current pace, Villanueva will leave the Lloyd Noble Center on Nov. 28 with a definite feeling of accomplishment, and probably a record or two.
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Villanueva, one of only three Sooners to play in every match this season, has taken full advantage of the all the court time this season. She currently is averaging 2.61 digs per game, ranking her second on the team behind freshman Joanna Schmitt (2.69). She currently has 249 digs, which is the third best rally-scoring single season total and 17 behind freshman Joanna Schmitt, who owns the record.
Over the last five games, Villanueva has really stepped up her play and it's no coincidence that OU's play has improved dramatically during that same span.
The Sooners loss at Texas Tech on Oct. 22, was the turning point in Villanueva's eyes.
"It was a wake up call for our team," said Villanueva. "That game really stood out to me. We are a lot better than we were playing and we needed to step up."
Villanueva wasn't singling out her teammates; she openly admits she needed to improve as well. Villanueva stepped up her play, as did the rest of the Sooner squad, and the wins followed. Since the fist trip to Texas Tech, OU has completed a season sweep of Baylor and won the heated rematch with Texas Tech.
Since the match at Texas Tech (five matches) Villanueva has averaged 2.80 digs per game, up from her season average of 2.54.
"The last few games I've really played a lot better," said Villanueva. "I have taken my game to the level I know I'm capable of."
The statistical improvement is a testament to the pride Villanueva has in her volleyball skills and her work ethic. Villanueva has never been satisfied with anything less than her best performance.
Other than her own tenacity, Villanueva feels the coaching staff's defensive adjustments in recent weeks have helped the team improve as a whole.
"I think my increase in digs lately is a direct result of the changes the coaching staff has made in our defensive strategies," stated Villanueva.
Stepping up her play has been just a part of the job for this senior captain. Villanueva's called upon to provide emotional support to a roster full of youngsters. As the captain, Villanueva cherishes the expectations and welcomes the challenges of being a team leader.
"The role as captain is one that I wanted to have", said Villanueva. "I like the responsibility that comes with the position and I like to lead."
After her junior season, Villanueva felt she had the necessary qualities to be a captain and she believed her teammates felt the same way. Her beliefs became fact when the team and coaching staff voted her as team captain (along with senior Kelly McCarter and sophomore Sheena Werling) prior to the start of the season.
"I knew the girls on this team respected me," said Villanueva. "It is a role that I have a lot of respect for. It was an honor to be a captain and a position I've really enjoyed."
What Villanueva has shared with the freshmen on and off the volleyball court is something she hopes the young squad will remember the rest of their careers. Villanueva has a lot of faith that this season is just the beginning of great things for Sooner volleyball.
"I hope the freshmen will remember all that we went through this season. This season has taught everyone on the team a lot and hopefully it will help the younger players as they bring the program back to greatness," said Villanueva. "I want to come back when they're seniors and see how much they have grown and know that I played a role in their development."
With her career coming to a close, Villanueva looks back with great pride, while realizing the job is not done.
"I'm glad I got to experience the Big 12 and the highest level of collegiate volleyball," said Villanueva. "I think we'll finish this season strong and hopefully surprise a few Big 12 teams along the way."