Four years ago when McKenzie Adams found out she made the varsity girls volleyball team at Steele High School in Schertz-Cibolo, Texas, she broke down and cried, but they weren’t necessarily tears of joy.
"Every tryout, I meet with every athlete individually and let them know if they are cut from the team, if they made the team and what team they made," Steele coach Kathy Glunt said. "The first time I met with McKenzie to tell her she made the varsity team, she began to cry. She didn’t feel like she deserved a varsity spot. I was so shocked by her response. She didn’t see the talent that I saw at that time. She thought she was good enough to be on JV, but never expected a varsity spot."
It didn’t take long for Adams to understand that she belonged on the team, however. In her very first outing, she understood what it meant to be a varsity player.
"It was very overwhelming, but I knew I could do it," Adams said. "Coach Glunt wasn’t going to put anyone on the court that she didn’t think could do the job. So knowing that she had faith in me and that the rest of my teammates did, as well, was a little more calming."
Since those early unsure moments at Steele, Adams has developed into one of the top outside hitters in the country. A member of the AAU Volleyball Nationals All-American Team, a Texas Coaches Girls Association 4A all-state selection and the District 27-4A MVP, Adams also earned a scholarship offer to the University of Virginia. She will sign with the Cavaliers in November.
"I can’t wait; I am ready to go now!" Adams said. "I know it’s going to be a lot of work, and I’m going to have to work my butt off to be the Division I athlete that I want to be, but it’s all going to be worth it when, hopefully, I’m a starting freshman."
Adams said that the recruiting process was stressful, but selecting Virginia was not a difficult choice.
"It has been very overwhelming but exciting to know that all these colleges are looking at me and knowing I am going to be able to play volleyball in college," Adams added. "The hardest part was making sure I knew without a doubt the college I picked was where I belonged. That is, until I visited Virginia, and I knew that it was exactly where I needed to be."
Before she heads off to Virginia, however, Adams has some unfinished business to take care of at the high school level, namely a possible state championship. Although only in its fourth season as a varsity program, Steele reached the regional finals last year before falling to Lake Travis.
"I think that experience will play a huge part of our success this year," Adams said. "We are a very young program, but we are determined to go farther than we did last year. There are many on this team who will not give up no matter what, and we are willing to put team first, self second."
Adams leads the way as one of the top hitters in Texas. She set a school record last year with 908 kills and is the school’s all-time leader in kills with 1,423. She also has a school-record 279 blocks and 83 aces. Her best outing was 39 kills in one game last year. This season, she already has 349 kills for the Knights, who are 23-2 on the season.
"Her biggest strength is her hitting abilities. She is able to hit any set and is able to see the court to hit any shot to earn a kill," Glunt said. "She is also amazing on the back row with quick movement and accurate serve-receive. Many middle hitters are not quick enough on the back row to play defense. McKenzie is one of the exceptions. Even though I've coached her for many years, she still amazes me."
Adams notes that her awareness on the court has been a key to her improvement as well.
"I think I have good court sense, or so I’ve been told," she said. "Yes, I can hit the ball hard, but it’s knowing where to hit it that gives me the advantage against my opponents. I think I am a good leader, and my teammates look to me to make the points and lead them to victories. I like to think of myself as the ‘go-to’ person, because when games are tight is when I want the ball the most."
Adams has been playing volleyball since she was 8, when her older sister first got involved with the sport.
"My sister played volleyball in junior high and she would come home and take me outside and teach me to bump and hit the ball so that she could pepper with me," Adams said. "She taught me how to overhand serve by having me serve the ball on the roof of our one-story house over and over. Then my parents signed me up for a youth league and I can remember being the only 8-year-old who could overhand serve. The coaches of the other teams would ask the refs not to let me serve overhand because they were afraid their players would get hurt."
Many summers playing youth-league ball under coach Melanie Stein and club ball with Richard Sampson, two of her early coaches, helped Adams develop her abilities. She also noted that Keith Wilson of the Alamo Volleyball Club helped to elevate her play by teaching her to swing block and improve her transitioning.
"Credit also goes to Coach Glunt," Adams said. "She has shown so much confidence in me from my freshman year until now, and has been instrumental in helping me to achieve my goals. She is constantly reinforcing and tweaking my skills."
Adams feels she received most of her athletic ability from her grandparents rather than her parents.
"I think athletic ability skipped a generation because neither one of my parents were athletes, but my mom’s parents both were," she said. "My grandfather was a great basketball player in high school, and continued to play after he joined the Navy in intramural leagues. My grandmother was an awesome volleyball player in high school and also continued to play in intramural leagues as she traveled around the world with my grandfather."
Adams says she devotes her time to her studies and her sport and has little time to fit a part-time job into her schedule.
"My job is playing volleyball and getting good grades in school," she said. "Between school, club volleyball and camps, what business would hire me and be willing to work around a crazy schedule like that?"
She also noted that she is grateful to live in a community that supports its high school sports programs.
"Because Schertz-Cibolo is a small town, everybody knows everybody, and I love that. We are a military community so it is a very patriotic community, and because of that, we are always getting new people moving in," she said. "The community is very supportive of the high school sports programs and really come out to cheer us on when we make it to the playoffs."
Glunt says that Adams’ hard work has been a major factor in helping Steele become one of the state’s top 4A teams.
"McKenzie works hard to help do her part in reaching our goals for the team, which is to win state," Glunt said. "There are times when McKenzie is sick or has a minor injury, and I have to sit her out of practice or a game. It is like we are torturing her. She hates to miss practice. She feels like she is letting down her team."
Adams adds that simply playing the game is a big motivation for her.
"I love being able to play the sport everyday, whether in practice or a game, and hopefully, making it to playoffs and having a chance to win state and get a ring," she said. "It’s a great feeling to represent my high school and to be a part of a team that makes the community proud of our accomplishments."