Freshman Phenoms – Rookies feeling ‘right at home’ on the volleyball court

Photo by Evan Ludes/ The Gateway O'Shaughnessy and Horkey contribute in different areas
Photo by Evan Ludes/ The Gateway
O’Shaughnessy and Horkey contribute in different areas

By Blake Dickinson, Contributor

It isn’t very hard to find a quality leader on the young Mavericks volleyball team. Freshmen Sydney O’Shaughnessy and Mackenzie Horkey wasted no time in becoming valuable contributors to the 2014 squad, which has seen excellent playing time from its underclassmen.
For both girls, making the switch to the college level has been relatively easy as their high school and club team successes prepared them for what they would experience on the next stage. The only variable which has changed is the environment.
“Just realizing you’re playing with college athletes is a huge step,” Horkey, an outside hitter from Jordan, Minn., said. “It can be nerve racking. The game doesn’t change, it’s just the environment.”
Receiving high accolades has been a regular part of both girls’ volleyball lives for the last several years.
O’Shaughnessy, a setter from Marian High School in Omaha, was named a high school All-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) and MaxPreps. She was also named the honorary captain of the Omaha World-Herald All-State Team and holds two school records.
Horkey was also named a Top-150 All-American by, was a three-time All-State selection and won a national title with her club team in Minnesota. She also had the opportunity to play in tournaments in Italy, France, Belgium, Holland and Switzerland.
“It was different because you had to learn all the rules,” Horkey said. “It’s cool to see how they play and the different aspects compared to how we play.”
The deciding reason for both girls’ success, they said, was their family’s support. For O’Shaughnessy, this support was vital because it taught her the value of hard work.
“Going to Marian was a huge financial sacrifice for my parents to make,” O’Shaughnessy said. “My parents have always backed me up and supported my decisions.”
Horkey’s parents had to make a different sacrifice.
“They’ve never missed a game, even when I played overseas,” Horkey said. “They’re always encouraging me to be better and giving me advice on my passing and hitting.”
Both girls feel that being a member of such a close team has made their transition easier because they still feel like they constantly have that family support.
“The entire team has been absolutely amazing,” O’Shaughnessy said. “The expectation is that everyone should be treated with respect and as equals.”
The upperclassmen continue to demonstrate excellent leadership despite accommodating for multiple freshman in the rotation.
“[Junior] Kimberly Bailey is great at giving tips throughout practice,” Horkey said. “It helps to have a player’s perspective instead of a coach sometimes.”
Both girls also commented on how Junior Kelly Wollack’s humor can “liven up the team” and that Michaela Schimmer is a great encourager on the court.
Even though both girls have experienced personal success in the game, they both recognize that the team’s goals are the most important aspect of the game.
“Our goal as a team for the year is to take every team to the fifth set and to win every fifth set we’re in,” O’Shaughnessy said.
The team has seen some success in this goal, with a record of 2-2 in games that went to the final set.
Not only has the switch to college been a change on the court, but it has also required some changes in the classroom. However, the two have not yet had any difficulty transitioning.
“Marian was a college preparatory school that sometimes gave eight hours of homework in addition to eight hours of school and three hours of practice,” O’Shaughnessy said.
The ability to get homework ahead of time has been the key to success for Horkey.
“I’ve been able to take my papers with me because we literally have all day to work on them,” Horkey said. “When we’re not traveling, we have practice in the morning and the rest of the day is free to study.”
Both girls also agree that having mandatory weekly study hours is helping to prevent them from falling behind.
The deciding factor in attending the University of Nebraska at Omaha for both O’Shaughnessy and Horkey was that it felt like home.
“I loved the campus and the coaches on my first visit,” said Horkey.
Having grown up in Omaha, O’Shaughnessy’s choice was led by her intuition.
“I didn’t have that at home feeling at other campuses,” she said. “I instantly felt right at home.”
Horkey also added that “It’s exciting to be a part of the growing process with the transition to D-1 athletics. Knowing that I’m doing something and helping out is rewarding.”
For both girls, playing in Omaha has been a rewarding experience, and they are looking forward to playing even larger roles on the team in the future.