by Pat Turner, goUTSA.com contributing writer
SAN ANTONIO — McKenzie Adams is leaving her mark on college volleyball.
Not only has the 6-foot-3 senior outside hitter from Steele High School made an impact at UTSA the past three years, she also has made a name for herself around the nation.
In addition to becoming UTSA’s first All-American, Adams has earned superlative awards while playing in four difference conferences — Southland, Western Athletic and Conference USA with the Roadrunners and Atlantic Coast during her freshman season at Virginia.
Being named WAC Player of the Year last season and the preseason C-USA Player of the Year and Sport Imports/AVCA National Player of the Week during the past several months is appreciated by Adams. However, the award she cherishes most would be leaving UTSA with a conference championship ring.
Thanks to UTSA’s successful run this season, the Roadrunners (19-7, 11-1 C-USA) are within reach of that goal as they go into the final weekend of the regular season sharing the top spot with Tulsa (22-5, 11-1 C-USA).
UTSA hosts East Carolina on Friday and Tulsa in Sunday’s regular-season finale in what could be the battle for the league title.
“I can’t say I don’t go to bed smiling at night,” Adams said. “The awards are nice, but it’s always been a dream to have a (championship) ring on my finger. That’s the only award I really want.”
UTSA had a challenging opening stretch to begin the season with an 8-7 non-conference campaign, but everything has fallen into place during conference play.
Adams, who ranks second nationally in kills (5.58) and points (6.03) per set, has totaled 519 kills this year. However, others are delivering power plays, including Dajana Boskovic, Kylie Schott and Dempsey Thornton, while setters Brandy Huskey and Jessica Waldrip are directing the offense.
Adams also is doing her part on the defensive side with 431 digs with additional help being provided by Annie Kunes, Paige Hamilton and Daniella Villarreal.
The well-rounded effort is the reason the Roadrunners are going strong. Now, the key is making sure that steady play is present this weekend.
“For us to be where we are is exciting,” Adams said. “All of us are clicking now. We trust each other and it’s working so well. We have to keep our mind right and keep working hard in the gym. That’s what’s gotten us this far and that will get us to the end.”
Still, the honors have been a huge confidence boost.
It started at Virginia when Adams was named ACC Freshman of the Year and has picked up steam every year at UTSA.
The honors in the WAC last year got her fired up going into this season. Then another dose of inspiration came with the preseason award. At the same time, Adams knew the attention created additional pressure.
Because coaches were considering her the top player in the league, Adams knew she had to prove worthy of the status each match.
Adams has done just that in her own special way.
“It’s made me work harder,” she said. “There’s no higher award you can get. I was excited about it, but here come all the targets. I tried to forget about the awards and focused on playing to the best of my ability and winning. I wanted to help make my teammates better because I knew they were going to make me better. If you focus on those things then it’s easier to handle.”
Seeing Adams succeed isn’t anything out of the ordinary. During her high school days at Steele, she was one of the area’s top volleyball and basketball players.
When it came time to deciding which route to go in college, volleyball was her choice.
Virginia seemed to be the ideal place, as Adams stepped in with an impressive freshman campaign. However, she never felt comfortable in the program and started looking for somewhere closer to home.
The perfect opportunity came at UTSA, but Adams wasn’t too familiar with the school in the beginning. Once she visited the campus and got to know her future teammates and head coach Laura Neuguebauer-Groff, Adams knew she could be part of something special.
“I visited here and fell in love with it,” she said. “To see how much the school had grown and how much was being put into athletics was amazing. I got to know the players and coaches and it was just a good experience. It was 30 minutes from home and my parents could see me play. I could see good things happening here, so I knew it was going to be a good fit for me.”
Adams has fit in nicely. She always had the reputation of being a powerful hitter, but now it’s stronger, thanks to a renewed work ethic.
“God gave me the ability to do amazing things, but I haven’t always had the best work ethic," Adams said. "Going to college and seeing how hard other players worked to accomplish just being on the court taught me a lot.
"It really sunk in this past summer working with Lauren Muenchow. She is a walk-on and to see her starting now because of her hard work inspired me. Even when you may not be the best, if you work hard enough, you can. Here I am with this great ability and to not work the hardest was not fair to me or my teammates.”
In addition to the solidifying the work ethic, Adams has carried her skills to a different level, thanks to her teammates and valuable advice from assistant coach Sanja Tomasevic.
“Sanja has helped me go leaps and bounds beyond what I thought I could do,” Adams said. “I’ve become smarter. She has taught me you don’t need to always go up there and crush the ball. You have to think about the game and make shots.
“Of course, we have other great power players and great defense. Going against that every day helps me tremendously. It’s really been exciting. I wouldn’t be anywhere without my teammates. because they have done so much to help me. I have amazing teammates and coaches.”
Although winning a C-USA crown would be the perfect way to end her volleyball career, Adams is adding an extra adventure to her senior season.
Once the season ends, Adams is joining the Roadrunners’ basketball team.
“Coach Luby (Lubomyr Lichonczak) approached me because they lost a lot of their taller players,” said Adams, who hopes to play professional volleyball overseas. “He asked me how I felt about playing and I couldn’t say no. I love basketball. To be able to play in college is a real blessing in disguise. It’s been a great senior year.”
Adams will be honored tonight prior to the opening tip with East Carolina along with fellow seniors Paige Hamilton and Huskey.