Quiet success from Cerame helps Texas stay competitive

Claire Cruz

The journey to success has been long for junior outside hitter Paulina Prieto Cerame — and it’s not over yet.

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Cerame moved to Miami, Florida. She served as a three-year volleyball captain at Palmer Trinity School and a two-time Miami Herald Player of the Year. Cerame also competed in the World Championships as a member of the USA Youth National Team.

After high school, Cerame traveled to State College, Pennsylvania, to play for perennial powerhouse Penn State. She redshirted her freshman season and then helped the Nittany Lions claim their sixth national championship in 2013. Cerame played in 29 matches that season with seven starts and registered 89 kills for a .252 hitting percentage along with 16 blocks and five service aces.

Despite Penn State’s success, Cerame said she wasn’t happy with the Nittany Lions. She moved once again, this time to Austin, to fight for playing time in another strong program.

“We are excited to add a quality player and person in Paulina to our program,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said in 2014. “We are looking forward to adding her to our program and getting her acclimated with our philosophies both on and off the court.”

In her first season with Texas, Cerame played primarily as an opposite. Although her playing time didn’t increase much because of Texas’ depth, her statistics improved. In 27 matches, Cerame recorded 166 kills for a .253 hitting percentage while tallying 78 blocks.

Through eight matches in 2015, Cerame has played in seven of them and is swinging as an outside hitter. She has 55 kills and 171 attacks for a .164 hitting percentage.

“When you come in as a freshman, you just want to kill every ball and you panic when you don’t do that,” Cerame said. “You learn slowly with the years that you’ve got to be patient, and sometimes, it’s not that you’re doing anything wrong, it’s just that every play is different.”

Cerame’s statistics don’t fully reveal how important her swing is for Texas. Her kill count isn’t drastically high, and her hitting percentage hovers around the team average. It’s the strength she puts behind every hit is what helps Texas most.

“We keep a stat in terms of what kind of ball we’re getting back from her swings,” Elliott said. “Even though her numbers aren’t as good, we’re getting a lot of free-ball and down-ball situations because of her velocity.”

Opponents come into games with specific strategies to contain Cerame, so persistence and patience are two characteristics she’s been working on, especially since her position change.

“I definitely think, on the outside, there’s more demands,” Cerame said. “Sometimes you’re not going to get the best numbers, but it’s [about] driving every time and being concentrated. Our coaches stress that a lot, to me especially.”

When her college career is over, Cerame wants to play professional volleyball overseas and hopes to make the U.S. Women’s National Team. It’ll take hard work and patience to achieve those dreams, but Cerame’s coaches and teammates think she has what it takes.

“I think her confidence is growing,” Elliott said. “She’s been fighting hard in the practice gym and getting better.”