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Trending upward: a look at TCU volleyball’s nonconference play

The Frogs have broken program records and showed signs of being really dang competitive.

Photo courtesy of TCU Athletics.

To put it lightly, it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing through crystal clear water for TCU volleyball in the last year.

During the split 2020-2021 season because of COVID-19, the Frogs won just four games, and only one of those came in the fall season.

Over its 21 games, TCU was swept seven times, with one of those coming against Sun Belt-opponent Texas State.

To make matters worse, middle blocker Katie Clark, a two-time member of the All-Big 12 2nd Team, announced in July that she was transferring to Penn State.

Despite all of this, head coach Jill Kramer and the Frogs clearly didn’t spend the offseason hanging their heads, as TCU has looked energized and improved to start the 2021 season.

With Big 12 play starting Friday, the Frogs are currently sitting at 6-4. Here’s how their first 10 games panned out.

Big 12/Big Ten Challenge

Saying that TCU was thrown to the fire early would be an understatement when describing TCU’s season-opening weekend.

As part of the Big 12/Big Ten Challenge, the Frogs faced off with No. 2 Wisconsin and No. 7 Minnesota.

TCU was swept in both matches, but there were good signs in each that showed signs of promise for the Frogs.

Against the Badgers, the Frogs struggled offensively, putting up just 26 total kills to Wisconsin’s 47. On the defensive side, though, sophomore Madi Cole totaled four blocks in her first-ever appearance.

Not only did the middle blocker’s total lead all players in the match, but it set the TCU record for most blocks in a debut.

Against the Gophers, it was a young defender that, once again, stood out for the Frogs. Freshman libero Cecily Bramschreiber led both teams with 14 total digs.

Bramschreiber had finished the weekend with 24 digs in only six sets played, hinting that she could be valuable in a defensive specialist role while starting setter McKenzie Nichols continues to thrive.

“We learned a lot about ourselves this weekend and the areas we need to improve on moving forward,” head coach Jill Kramer said.

Cowtown Classic

TCU bounced back from their 0-2 start with a nearly-perfect performance in the Cowtown Classic at Schollmaier Arena.

The Frogs swept all three of their opponents (Nicholls State, UTRGV, UMBC), with only two of the nine sets being within five points.

Over the course of the weekend, TCU totaled 127 kills, as outside hitter Julia Adams collected 40 on her own.

Despite their offensive improvement, defense had, yet again, been the highlight of the tournament for TCU.

In the match against Nicholls State, the Frogs totaled 13.0 blocks as a team, marking their highest block total in a three-set match since 2015.

Against UTRGV, junior MyKayla Myers set a career-high with nine blocks, as TCU held the Vipers to a measly .068 hitting clip.

Finally, when facing UMBC, the Frogs held their opponent to under .100 hitting yet again (0.89), as Cole tallied seven blocks on her own.

Setter McKenzie Nichols was named MVP of the tournament after averaging 10.33 assists/set, 2.22 digs/set, and 1.33 blocks per set.

Fight in the Fort

The Frogs looked almost as good the following weekend, sweeping their first two opponents (Louisiana Tech, North Florida) before falling in a five-set nail-biter to HBU.

The sweeps gave TCU five-straight on the season, tying the program record. The Frogs then won their first set against HBU, setting a school record with 16-consecutive sets won.

The win over Louisiana Tech wasn’t just the Frogs’ fourth-straight, but it also marked the 150th win of Kramers’ career.

The former TCU Volleyball superstar was the head coach at West Virginia (2010-2014) before accepting the position in Fort Worth in 2014.

Typical to her character, Kramer gave the credit to those that have been around her in her career.

“To be honest, I don’t think about it that much,” Kramer said about her 150th win. “I think about all the hard work that every player I have ever coached has put into the game. It’s all about them, not something I do. So, I’m happy to be along for the ride on that.”

In the second matchup against North Florida, TCU overcame a 17-9 second set deficit to then pull off their fifth sweep in a row.

The mark tied the Horned Frogs’ record from 2015, when TCU made it to the NCAA tournament.

Against HBU, TCU dropped the second and third sets by three and two points, respectively. The Frogs would dominate the fourth set to force a fifth, but a quick, five-point deficit in the final set would prove too much for TCU to overcome.

Despite the final game loss, Nichols had impressively topped her Cowtown Classic MVP performance with 11.00 assists/set in the Fight in the Fort.

Wrapping up nonconference

TCU put their nonconference schedule to rest this past week, splitting matches against Incarnate Word and SMU.

Against the Cardinals, the Frogs put on a defensive show, setting a program record with 22.0 blocks as a team.

Cole led the way, tying the school record with 12 blocks by herself. Myers was also outstanding with 10 blocks of her own.

After TCU went up 2-0, Incarnate Word won a tight fourth set to prevent a sweep. Nine points from blocks alone led the Frogs to victory in the fourth, though, as they took the 3-1 match win.

Four days later, TCU fell 3-2 to SMU at home in the Frogs’ most intense match of the 2021 season.

The teams traded set wins, with a .500 hitting clip by the Frogs in the fourth sending the match to a fifth.

TCU would lead by one (8-7) midway through the final set, but unforced errors by the Frogs helped SMU end the match on a 4-1 run.

“The effort was there from our team, we simply made too many errors,” Kramer said. “We needed to play cleaner volleyball. We had some good performances.”

Cole had put up 7 blocks, Nichols posted her 20th-career double-double (one of 17 Frogs to do so), and Myers tallied 14 kills in the loss.

Up next

TCU will start Big 12 on the road this Friday in Ames against Iowa State. The Frogs will take on the Cyclones at 6:30 p.m. on Friday and 4 p.m. on Saturday. Both matches will be on ESPN+.