Sophomore Sha’Dare McNeal is a little hard to pin down and define.
McNeal teeters on shy and quiet, but claims she’s the opposite when around people she knows really well.
She used to play the guitar, violin and piano, but her current connection with music is in a near perpendicular capacity as the team’s unofficial co-DJ, in charge of putting together pregame mixes that include songs like “Teach Me How to Dougie” by the Cali Swag District and “No Hands” by Waka Flocka Flame.
Statistically, McNeal is consistent, rarely posting numbers that outlie her regular performance. Even her position — listed as a utility player — is vague at best.
But McNeal’s impact on the court has been substantial, especially to the more discerning eyes.
“Sha’Dare, as I told her at the beginning of the preseason, is probably one of the most important players because of what she does on first contact,” said head coach Jerritt Elliott. “There’s a lot of things she doesn’t get credit for, but she’s a huge part of our success, and her growth has been very impressive.”
McNeal’s numbers have been quietly steady across the board. Among the noninjured players on the team, she is second in assists per set (.27), third in service aces (15), digs per set (1.92), blocks per set (.78) and fourth in kills per set (1.86).
“I’m versatile,” McNeal said. “I just play my role. If anybody gets hurt or anything that happens, I can play that position.”
McNeal’s ability to stay on the court is likely the most telling statistic on an injury-prone Longhorn squad, as she and senior outside hitter Juliann Faucette are the only players to have played in every set of the season. And while the continuity has undoubtedly helped the team, it has also been a major part of McNeal’s development.
“From last year and this year, I’ve had to play a different role,” McNeal said. “At first I was very nervous that I was going to start and stuff but through time and playing, we’ve [all] grown.”
The San Diego native came to UT as a middle blocker and played in that capacity last year. But Elliott sensed that McNeal could develop into a back-row threat, and after the last ball dropped in 2009, the coaching staff worked to convert her into an all-around player. Growing pains may have been tough, but in hindsight, McNeal would have it no other way.
“During high school and club, I never played in the back row,” McNeal said. “So transitioning from the spring and learning that I’d be playing in real matches was real nerve-wrecking.
Now it’s my favorite part of the game.”
McNeal’s job off the court may have just as much impact as her job on it. A lifelong music junkie, she teams up with Faucette to compile sound tracks to blast in the locker room to get the team pumped up before games.
“Music’s a big part of my life,” McNeal said. “A lot of the girls noticed that I always have my iPod and my headphones on. Music is just what I surround myself with all the time.”
McNeal and Faucette’s relationship goes back to the time when the duo were teammates on the Epic Volleyball Club. Faucette consequently played a big part in luring McNeal from Southern California to Central Texas.
“When I came here, I knew Jay [Faucette] was going to be here,” McNeal said. “She was really honest with me. She [also] showed me a different side of Texas and just how family-oriented the fans were, and I just felt really comfortable here.”
As the Longhorns head into Saturday’s match against Oklahoma at Gregory Gym, they likely couldn’t care less whether McNeal can be defined. The free-flowing, versatile nature of the 6-foot-1-inch utility seems to be serving Texas just fine.