Kramer's Career Coming Full Circle at TCU

Jan. 14, 2015

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Jill Kramer's life in volleyball is three-fold: player, assistant coach and head coach. Each phase has played a vital role in where she now stands as the third head coach in the history of TCU and the first Director of Volleyball.

Kramer, formerly Pape, prepped at East Central High School in San Antonio, played club at Alamo Volleyball Club and made several stops as a collegiate assistant coach before landing her first head coaching position at West Virginia University.

After five seasons with the Mountaineers, Kramer will implement her wealth of volleyball knowledge to move TCU up the Big 12 ladder and provide guidance to the Horned Frogs and help guide the program into its first season with sand volleyball.

For the Hornets, Kramer excelled academically and athletically. She was a four-year starter and a three-time academic all-district honoree. She went from an honorable-mention all-district performer as a freshman to a second-teamer as a sophomore and a first-teamer as a junior and senior.

In addition to the first-team honors as a junior, she was named to the All-Greater San Antonio Second Team. The following year, she was named the district's outstanding hitter and was a member of the All-Greater San Antonio First Team as well as a member of the East State All-Star team.

Following her high school career, Kramer narrowed down her college options to Texas A&M and TCU. At the time, Texas A&M was an established program with two all-Americans, while at TCU she would be a member of the Frogs' first-ever volleyball team.

"If you were a kid with aspirations to play in college this school didn't have a volleyball program, so you didn't know anything about it," Kramer said. "TCU and SMU weren't on the radar for anyone. They both started programs in the same year (1996)."

With Stacy Sykora, who eventually went on to be a three-time Olympian, and Kristie Smedsrud, who eventually played professionally in Europe, already playing for the Aggies, going to A&M was out of the question for Kramer.

"I really wanted to contribute early," she said. "I wanted to make an impact somewhere so I chose TCU."

Kramer was one of 10 freshmen on the inaugural 1996 team, and just one of three with a scholarship.

They took their lumps the first year in going 4-30 overall and 1-17 in Western Athletic Conference play. The Frogs lost their first nine matches before recording a 3-1 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette for the first win in school history. They went on to post wins over La. Tech, Cornell and SMU.

There were times, she admits, when she wondered what she was doing at TCU, but she credits her family for keeping her focused and grounded during the early years.

"Parents can do one of two things: They can help you spread your wings, but at the same time be there when you need them, or they can debilitate and enable you," Kramer said. "I thought my parents did a good job of letting me work things out on my own."

The following year, the Frogs went 13-18 and 4-10 in WAC play. Two years later, the Frogs won five league games -- the most in the short history of the program.

In her first two seasons Kramer led the Frogs in kills with 626 and 405, respectively, while in her final two years she led the team in digs with 325 and 479, respectively. For three seasons she also led the team in aces with 28, 33 and 42.

She still holds the all-time record for kills (1,595); kills in a match (37); and total attacks (4,667). She is in the top 10 in matches played (8th, 124); consecutive matches played (8th, 96); games played (T6th, 438); kills per game (3rd, 3,64); digs (5th, 1,173); dig per game (T10th, 2.68); aces (T6th, 126); and aces per set (T8th, 0.29).

"I got to contribute and I got to play," she said. "I felt like we had a really strong culture and work ethic, and those were the things that were important to me. We could put our names on it."

When she graduated, she was just one of three of the original 10 to play all four seasons.

"No one can ever prepare themselves for what they are going to get into in college athletics. Everyone's experience is different," she said. "My experience was very, very rich. I made close friends. We went through a lot of stuff together, and when you're building a program, it's a different type of work you're putting in. That was very rewarding."

There was a time when Kramer teetered with the decision to pursue a career in club volleyball or collegiate volleyball.

She had recently wrapped up her stellar collegiate career at TCU and was back in her hometown of San Antonio coaching at UTSA and at Alamo Volleyball Association, but she wasn't quite satisfied.

"I felt like I could do both better and I wanted to go with just one -- either the collegiate game or the club game and do one really well," Kramer said. "An opportunity came open at the University of Alabama."

Since taking the assistant job in Tuscaloosa, she has made stops at Virginia (assistant) and West Virginia (head coach), before landing back at her alma mater.

At each stop, she said she has learned something that has prepared her for her current appointment.

At Alabama, she organized every practice and helped the Tide bring in their first top-30 recruiting class and achieve consecutive NCAA tournament berths. While at Virginia, she worked with Lee Maes not only with the Cavaliers, but with USA Volleyball as well and helped bring in two consecutive top 15 recruiting classes.

After two seasons at Virginia she landed her first head coaching job at West Virginia University.

"When I went to Virginia I had a couple of other programs that I could have gone to that were perennial powers," she said. "I really like to build, and that's why West Virginia was so appealing. At that time it was the BCS."

In five seasons -- and in two conferences (Big East and Big 12) -- Kramer led the Mountaineers to many program firsts and new heights. In 2013, WVU went 20-13 for its first 20-win season since 1991.

"Nothing I went through in my entire assistant coaching career would have prepared me for some of the challenges that I was going to have at West Virginia," she said. "There was a lot I needed to learn in that process and how to communicate with kids on a different level and build a culture when it's not there; how to manage people."

In her final season, WVU went 16-14 and won a school-record six Big 12 matches and finished the year with a program-high RPI of 70 -- and knocked on the door for an NCAA tournament bid. The Mountaineers also had two AVCA honorable-mention All-Americans for the first time in program history and their first-ever All-Big 12 First Team selection.

"It's always been a dream," Kramer said about coaching at TCU.

Kramer inherits a Horned Frog team that went 17-15 overall and 6-10 in the Big 12.

"I do think it's time to take a bigger step forward," she said. "You want to be in the top half (of the conference), not the bottom half. I think we're in a recruiting hot bed in the state, and I think we can get the right kids to compete in the Big 12."

Now she's rolling up her sleeves to help make that happen.

"First and foremost, because of the culture thing, we need to make sure TCU is a perennial power nationally. I want to be in the conversation all the time with the best recruits in the country. You have to take the steps to get there," she said. "You have to get in and work hard. People can do it when they feel like it, but when you don't feel like it you have to get in there and grind it out. You have to make the tournament before you can start talking about championships."

Some 15 years after graduating from TCU with a bachelor of business administration degree in marketing, her career in certain respects has come full circle; she is back where it essentially all began.

"I coach because of my (playing) experience here. I learned through that experience that as a coach I can choose to empower young women," she said. "Regardless if they want to or not, a student-athlete, without a doubt, cares about what their coach thinks. I think coaches have the ability to empower people.

"At the end of the day by treating people the right way and being honest and forthcoming with them, it helps me sleep well at night. Of course, I love volleyball, but it's just my instrument to empower young women."



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