By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (October 9, 2015) — Just walking through The Lookout Bar & Grill at Legends Country Club, the athlete has a commanding presence no one can possibly ignore.
When the Coach Cary Fowler Radio Show breaks then comes back with the Tarleton Athletics Spotlight, everyone listens, clinging to every word as the athlete talks about handling pressure, big dreams and a distinct love for teammates, coaches and Tarleton State University.
The athlete completes the interview, full of quotable lines so inspirational at least one Stephenville resident who listened in claims he instantly quit his job and is focused on completing school and achieving his dreams.
Because of one interview. With one athlete.
Harlon Hill Trophy contender on the gridiron, right?
Wait, it’s Tarleton, so even better – All-American point guard?
The athlete is a volleyball player, and she’s bucking trends left and right.
Can a volleyball player – and honestly, a girl? – be the most recognized student-athlete at Tarleton?
Can a volleyball player be the best athlete at a growing university of about 12,000 students?
Hailey Roberts doesn’t care. She’s too busy being Hailey Roberts.
And the world is taking notice.
The quote that really turned heads was one that sounded as if it were pulled off a billboard skying over a metropolitan freeway promoting Tarleton to all potential future students and their parents as they drive past.
Roberts was asked a simple enough question by radio talent Keltin Weins, the Voice of the TexAnns. It was a question that, in some form, must have been asked of a million successful athletes by a thousand hungry reporters through the years.
Once you’ve been named an All-American – Roberts achieved that as a freshman – a conference preseason player of the year and conference player of the week enough times this writer has already lost count, how do you tune out the accolades and focus on the task at hand?
“You have to remember there is always something higher to reach for and something bigger to dream for,” Roberts said, as faces all around the room – and surely several listening on the radio – instantly brightened.
It was the type of quote that makes one stop and think. The type of quote that makes one want to believe in themselves again, believe there’s something bigger and better out there, believe you can walk away from a job to try and achieve your dreams.
The sophomore from Cedar Park, a suburb of Austin, was asked to expound on that quote.
“It’s true no matter where you are in life. Like going to nationals is the dream now after making it to the regionals for the first time ever and coming so close. We’ve been to regionals, but there’s something bigger,” she explained. “You can always get something bigger, something better. Like after college volleyball I want to go overseas or play in the Olympics. You have to focus on dreams that are bigger, like life after college, because it doesn’t last very long.”
For Roberts and Tarleton, winners of six straight to join a second-place tie in the Lone Star Conference, the next step on that college volleyball journey is a weekend-long home stand pitting the TexAnns against Cameron at 6 Friday evening and Midwestern at 2 Saturday afternoon, both at Wisdom Volleyball Gym.
The match with Cameron is big because they are two of the three teams tied for second just a half-game behind Texas Woman’s, which Tarleton has already defeated. But as any coach, including TexAnn leader Mary Schindler, will tell you, the Midwestern game is just as big because it also counts as a game in the conference standings.
In a conference Roberts believes Tarleton can and will win.
“Absolutely,” she said. “Do we have to be ready every game because there are a lot of good teams in our league? Yes. Angelo State, I believe, will be the biggest bump in the road because they have experience succeeding in the conference, but I believe we can beat them and I do believe, if we stay focused and work together, we can win the conference.”
Tarleton won the LSC Championship tournament for the first time last year, but has never won a season-long conference crown.
After a huge freshman season, Roberts is setting records left and right as a sophomore. The national and conference leader in kills per set and also among the LSC leaders in service aces, she is backing up the hype of being the league’s preseason offensive player of the year.
It’s as if the expectations, both on her and the team, only make her better.
“I love pressure. In a game, if it’s close, I want the ball. Some people choke under pressure, I thrive under pressure,” she says. “The accolades, yes, I tune them out, but I also use them to push me to achieve something bigger.”
So go ahead. Tell Hailey Roberts she’s the best player in the conference. Her reaction will be to try and prove she’s the best in the nation.
Tell the TexAnns they can’t win the LSC, and they might just contend to win the region.
Because as Roberts herself told the world, there’s always something higher to reach for. And there’s always something bigger to dream for.