2015 Review: The Start of the Kramer Era

Jan. 12, 2016

FORT WORTH, Texas – The first year under the theme of “A New Era” has come to a close and Director of Volleyball Jill Kramer has certainly put the TCU volleyball program on a path to success with everything that was accomplished in the 2015 season.

After wrapping up the 2015 season with an appearance in the NCAA Championship for only the second time in program history and a 19-10 overall record and a program-best 9-7 record in Big 12 action, the team has certainly laid the foundation for a program that is only going up.

“The main focus of our season was building our team culture by maintaining daily habits that we want to live by and create a foundation for our program,” Kramer said. “Our team did a great job of staying focused on this process and it seemed to pay off on and off the court. Our student-athletes improved their performance both on the court and in the classroom this semester.

“Our players finished the season hungry for more. There were many of them working out on their own the morning after our match against Hawaii. They aren't satisfied with when we finished, but are excited about the steps we are taking forward.”

We Are Going Dancing!
The Kramer era for the TCU volleyball team began with a berth to the 2015 NCAA Division I Volleyball Championship, as the Horned Frogs earned an at-large selection to the tournament. The selection into the tournament marked the second in program history and first since 2009, while also making it the first time into the tournament for Kramer in her head coaching career.

TCU faced a tough opponent in then-No. 7 Hawaii, who entered the match on a 21-match winning streak and was the best blocking team in the country with 3.30 blocks per set. The Frogs did not back down and took a 2-1 lead in the match, but the Rainbow Wahine did not falter and barely won the final two frames to secure the win and move on in the championship.

RPI – Making the Climb
Since reaching the program’s highest RPI in 2009 at No. 34, TCU has yet to come within reach in recent seasons. Under Kramer, the Frogs began the 2015 season at No. 61 and climbed to as high as No. 38. The resurgence speaks testaments of Kramer’s work to revamp the culture and work ethic of the program. After finishing in the 90s in RPI the last two seasons, the first-year head coach helped the team to only its second NCAA appearance in program history and an RPI finish of No. 52.

Hooking the Longhorns
The biggest win in program history came under the watchful eye of Kramer, as she guided the Frogs to a 3-0 sweep at home over RPI No. 2 Texas on Oct. 28. The win snapped Texas’ conference road winning streak of 19-straight matches. It marked the first win over a top-10 and top-5 opponent in school history and the first time the Longhorns had been swept in the 2015 season and also marked Texas’ lone conference loss in the 2015 season.

Blocking Machines
The biggest part of TCU’s game this year that helped them to its big resurgence was the blocking. The Frogs out-blocked their opponents 25 times in 2015 and were only out-blocked in only four matches. TCU recorded 17 matches with double-digit blocks and finished the season ranked inside the top 10 nationally at No. 7, while also leading the Big 12 from the very first match of the season.

“(Assistant Coach) Brian (Wright) did a great job of preparing our team for each opponent,” Kramer said. “Our players did a great job of executing their blocking assignments from match to match. We made a lot of changes in our blocking technique and blocking system this year, so it was nice to see the players hard work pay off. For Regan (McGuire) and Natalie (Gower) to play every set of the season and put up the numbers that they did is pretty amazing.

McGuire & Gower: The 1-2 Punch
TCU boasted the best two blockers in the Big 12 with junior middle blockers Regan McGuire and Natalie Gower becoming stout defenders at the net. McGuire led the league from the very first match and was ranked in the top-10 nationally all season long and finished with a No. 7 ranking of 1.54 blocks per set. Gower was not far behind and improved her blocking game all season and climbed to No. 2 in the conference and No. 40 nationally with 1.27 blocks per set.

McGuire and Gower’s junior campaigns will also go down in the TCU record books as some of the best blocking performances in program history. The 1.54 blocks per set posted by McGuire shattered the single-season school record, while Gower’s 1.27 blocks per set puts her at No. 3. McGuire was able to record 157 total blocks this season, which sits at No. 3 in the record book and Gower was able to collect 130 total blocks for No. 5 in school history.

All-American Ashley
After gaining All-Big 12 Second Team honors in 2014, junior Ashley Smith continued her success into 2015 and became only the fourth player in program history to garner AVCA All-America Honorable Mention honors. The League City, Texas native finished with a team-high 294 kills and 2.91 kills per set, while leading the team in service aces with 0.26 per set and also picking up 2.88 digs per set 0.63 blocks per set. Smith led the team in kills in 11 matches in 2015 and recorded a team-high 12 double-doubles. Smith finished the season ranked in the top-10 in three Big 12 categories – kills per set, points per set and service aces.

Give It Up For the Rookie
Almost halfway through the first half of Big 12 play, the TCU coaches determined they needed a change in the lineup and in came one of the biggest difference makers in the 2015 season in freshman Ashleigh Martin.

After becoming a starter on Oct. 7 against Oklahoma, Martin put down 91 kills, 2.12 kills per set, a .283 hitting percentage and 0.93 blocks per set. This season, Martin garnered two Big 12 Rookie of the Week honors and set numerous career-highs. Martin was also honored by being one of five freshmen in the Big 12 unanimously selected for the All-Freshmen Team.

The Seniors Leave Their Legacy
The senior class of Alexia Heist, Blaire Pickens and Sutton Sunstrum left a lasting legacy for the TCU volleyball program in their four years in the Horned Frogs uniforms. They entered as freshmen in the first season in the Big 12 Conference and helped usher in a new era under Kramer in their final year.

“More than anything else, our seniors did an outstanding job of building our culture,” Kramer said. “They were a lot of fun to coach because they understood how important it was for them to have a trusting relationship with our staff in order to build and maintain our culture. They should be very proud of the impact they have had on our volleyball program.”

Heist will become a three-sport athlete at TCU, as she will spend her final semester on the TCU women’s golf team. The El Paso, Texas native spent four years on the indoor team, as well as one season playing beach volleyball. Heist finished her career with 2,182 assists and became only the sixth person in TCU history to eclipse the 2,000 assist mark. Her assist total puts her at No. 6 in the TCU record book. From her freshman season until earlier this year, Heist appeared in 103 consecutive matches, which puts her at No. 8 all-time in program history.

Pickens will leave TCU as one of the most efficient hitters in program history. The lefty is the record holder in single match hitting percentage after putting down 10 kills on 10 swings with no errors for a perfect 1.000 hitting clip against Grambling State on Sept. 5, 2014. Pickens became only the fourth player in Big 12 history to accomplish the feat and first since 2012.

After transitioning to libero in her sophomore season, Sunstrum has been a stud from the backrow and will leave her name etched in the TCU record book. In the match against Tulane in 2015, Sunstrum became the 10th player in TCU volleyball history to eclipse 1,000 digs in her career and after finishing with 1,227 digs in her career, Sunstrum sits No. 4 in the TCU record books. In the single match portion of the TCU record book, Sunstrum will have her name etched seven times in the dig categories as her career-high 32 digs against UTEP last season ranks No. 6 in program history. In 2013, Sunstrum recorded six service aces against Grambling State, which also ranks No. 6 in a single match in the record books.

The home of the TCU volleyball team, the University Recreation Center, has been one of the most packed and loudest venues in the Big 12. With a capacity of 1,350, the Rec Center reached a sellout in nine of the 11 home matches in 2015 including all eight home Big 12 matches.

TCU finished the season ranked No. 35 nationally and No. 4 in the conference in attendance with 19,164 fans having walked through the doors. The Horned Frogs averaged 1,742 fans at matches in 2015 and since moving to the Rec Center in 2003, TCU has posted a 130-57 record (.695).

Let’s Go Streaking!
In 2015, the TCU volleyball team went on numerous streaks throughout the season.
- Regan McGuire became the first player in TCU volleyball history and fifth player in Big 12 history to win three straight Big 12 weekly awards after being named Offensive Player of the Week (8/31) and then garnering two straight Defensive Player of the Week (9/7 & 9/14) honors
- The Horned Frogs set a new program record by starting the season winning the first 15 straight sets
- TCU reached the double-digit mark in non-conference action for the 11th time in program history and fifth straight season
- TCU won four straight Big 12 matches for the first time in program history since joining the league in 2012 with wins over West Virginia, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech
- TCU sold out all eight Big 12 home matches becoming the first time in program history that the team has filled the University Recreation Center to capacity in all conference matches
- The Frogs strung together four-straight double-digit blocking performances twice this season

2015 Accolades
Jillian Bergeson
-Crosstown Classic All-Tournament Team

Natalie Gower
-TCU Muscle Milk Athlete of the Week (10/27), (12/1)
-Academic All-Big 12 First Team
-All-Big 12 Second Team
-AVCA All-Southwest Region Honorable Mention

Alexia Heist
-Academic All-Big 12 First Team

Regan McGuire
-Crosstown Class All-Tournament Team (MVP)
-Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week (8/31)
-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week (9/7), (9/14), (10/12)
-Allstate Sugar Bowl Collegiate Classic All-Tournament Team
-All-Big 12 Second Team
-AVCA All-Southwest Region First Team

Ashleigh Martin
-Big 12 Rookie of the Week (10/12), (11/2)
-All-Big 12 Freshman Team

Sarita Mikals
-SMU Doubletree Invitational All-Tournament Team

Blaire Pickens
-Allstate Sugar Bowl Collegiate Classic All-Tournament Team (MVP)
-TCU Muscle Milk Athlete of the Week (9/15)

Ashley Smith
-Preseason All-Big 12 Team
-Crosstown Class All-Tournament Team
-SDSU/USD Invitational All-Tournament Team
-SMU Doubletree Invitational All-Tournament Team
-TCU Muscle Milk Athlete of the Week (9/23)
-TCU Scholar Athlete of the Month (October & December)
-Academic All-Big 12 First Team
-All-Big 12 Second Team
-AVCA All-Southwest Region First Team
-AVCA Honorable Mention All-America

Sutton Sunstrum
-Academic All-Big 12 Second Team



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