The 2003 version of the Oklahoma volleyball team has showcased several new additions. Some freshmen, like Laura Tomes and Joanna Schmitt, have already been called on for regular duty. Others will be counted on to learn from the senior members and contribute as supportive teammates. Freshman setter Rachel Jackson begins her career in a challenging position - as backup to veteran setter Kelly McCarter.
The Arlington, Texas native adds depth to the position and can expect to see an increased role as the season progresses. Jackson isn't lacking experience; she is a veteran of the Texas and junior national club volleyball circuit. Despite all her prep experience the Texan is still pretty new to OU's coaching staff.
OU head coach Kalani Mahi had signed freshman Anna Monsen and McCarter (transferred from Arkansas), which meant his recruiting at setter was done for 2003. Jackson ignored OU's early signing period class and continued to send game footage to Norman. Finally, one afternoon she got in contact with Mahi and told him she wanted to be a Sooner. Mahi was stuck with no scholarships to offer. Jackson reiterated her desire to be a Sooner and willingness to walk-on.
"We haven't gotten talent like Jackson to walk-on the last few years," said Mahi. "It wasn't that we were ignoring her, but our scholarships were taken and we didn't think she'd want to walk on. She has been a great addition to our program and has already seen time because she puts up a very hittable set."
Jackson turned down other scholarship offers to become a Sooner and is proud of her decision.
"I love it here. Coach Mahi creates a real family-type atmosphere," said Jackson. "He is the most hands on coach I've ever worked with. He still plays volleyball so he can demonstrate skills and explain techniques to us. He backs up physical examples with verbal reinforcement."
Jackson comes to the Sooners as an accomplished and decorated high school standout. During Jackson's senior campaign she compiled 1,059 assists over the short high school season. Her final year total dwarfs the 895 assists by 2002 Sooner setter Jessica Barney. For her production Jackson was named Arlington High School's MVP and first team Texas District 5A. The two most prominent area newspapers also bestowed top honors on Jackson. The Fort Worth Star Telegram named Jackson Area player of the year, while The Dallas Morning News named her to the all-area team.
OU's staff is encouraged by Jackson's positive attitude towards her role as a reserve and willingness to absorb knowledge from the veterans.
"It's kind of tough, but I expected to be backing up Kelly,' explained Jackson. 'Kelly is awesome and I've been learning a lot from her on and off the court."
In McCarter, Jackson has seen first hand how a setter leads and must be quick to solve problems.
"Kelly is a great leader and very smart," said Jackson. "She is a fast thinker and is always trying to her teammates in better positions."
Jackson played in the season-opening Cougar Challenge and turned in an outstanding performance. She tallied 12 kills in game two of a three set loss to San Francisco on Sept. 30. The total was an OU single game-high for the tournament.
"I was surprised when coach put me in," said Jackson, who subbed for McCarter after the first game. "I just tried to put up hittable balls for all of our attackers."
She credits her early success to the veterans on OU's squad.
"All of the older teammates have been great mentors," said Jackson. "Yvette (Villanueva) has helped teach me about my position from a passer's point of view. Christina (Maynes) and Sheena (Werling), as well as the other hitters have shown me what a hitter needs to be successful."
Her fellow freshmen have also helped her transition into college volleyball.
"We are all sticking together," stated Jackson. "We all know we are going through the same thing."
The future of the volleyball team looks to be in good hands because Jackson and fellow freshman setter Anna Monsen have a great support system and have proven to be quick learners during their rookie season. The young tandem have come so far that OU will likely run a 6-2 (two setters) system as soon as next season.
"I still have a lot to learn," explained Jackson, "but I'm really looking forward to the challenges ahead of me."