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Former Storm athlete Hattis reflects on college experiences

In the 2012 volleyball season, Sara Hattis earned her first starting role at middle blocker when junior All-American Khat Bell strained her right calf in pre-match warm-ups.

Hattis went on to make four starts in the Texas Longhorns’ next six matches, adding 17 kills and 22.5 points and playing a key cog in defensive efforts at the net. The Longhorns went on to win the national championship.

This season, they made it as far as the Final Four, where the top-seeded Longhorns (27-3) were upset by No. 12 seed Wisconsin, 3-1.

“As a competitor, you never want to lose,” Hattis said. “It sucks to lose.”

Hattis, despite enjoying the time she spent at the Final Four in Seattle, was discouraged that she didn’t get onto the court in the loss to the Badgers. In fact, she played in only 28 of the 110 sets Texas played this season.

“It’s a learning experience,” she said of her time on the bench, but “I love it there (in Austin), and it’s a great experience.”

Such a great experience, in fact, that she’s decided not to play basketball this season, as she did in 2012-13 for Texas, so she can focus on volleyball. That wasn’t an easy decision because basketball has long been her sport of choice.

Growing up in Santa Fe, she said, her father, Bill, “wanted to get me acclimated to a lot of different things. He wanted me to go to college and not have to pay.”

She played Little League baseball, swam, and played basketball as a second-grader for the Gonzales Elementary Lobos, with her father serving as coach. Even better, Hattis said, “My dad promised me if I got a full ride (scholarship) he’d buy me a car; he still hasn’t bought me a car.”

She attended St. Michael’s High School and played on the Lady Horsemen’s junior varsity basketball team and C-team in volleyball while in eighth grade, and then on both sports’ varsity teams as a freshman.

The family decided a more-prominent school would be best when it came to garnering attention and getting a scholarship. Her club basketball coach suggested they take a look at Rio Rancho and, after falling in love with the new Cleveland High campus and admiring the school’s volleyball coach, Ben Wallis, the decision was made.

The next three seasons (2009-11), Hattis starred on the CHS volleyball team and played in the Class 5A championship match as a junior and senior; both times the Storm lost to Gadsden. She was named the state’s Player of the Year after her senior season.

She played three seasons on the hardwood and still anguishes over the Storm’s state tournament loss to Eldorado at Santa Ana Star Center her senior year. She led the Storm in scoring in 15 games that season, and made the 5A All-State first team.

Hattis also competed on the track and field team; she was second in the high jump at the state meet as a senior after finishing third as a junior.

When it came time to decide on a college, she found that some universities wanted her for volleyball, others for basketball. And a few wanted her for both sports.

Florida and Texas wanted her for volleyball; Vanderbilt and Purdue wanted her for hoops.

Other college options included the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State, Arizona State, Louisville and DePaul.

“Texas was, like, ‘We want her; we want her,’” Hattis said, and after a whirlwind trip with her father and brother Henry, a Cleveland basketball player, to Austin, Nashville, Louisville, Chicago and West Lafayette, Ind., she opted for Texas, where she learned she could play both sports.

“I wanted to get out of New Mexico; I’m glad I accomplished that,” she said.

Except for ungodly hot weather part of the year, she loves life in Austin, “a pretty big campus,” she said, but “walkable,” plus it has bus transportation. She lives in a dorm that’s close to the gym.

Longhorns’ home matches in Gregory Gymnasium, she said, are a lot of fun because of the fans’ enthusiasm.

“Almost every home match is sold out,” she said. “It’s amazing.” Plus, home matches are aired on the Longhorn Network.

Majoring in sport management but hoping to play volleyball professionally overseas someday, Hattis said the trip her team made in late May — to Croatia, Italy and Slovenia — was “an amazing experience,” with a lot of sightseeing and plenty of competitive volleyball.

She hopes the work she puts in before the 2014 season pays off with more court time and, best-case scenario, a starting role.