Spike!: TCU volleyball coach wants to make history (again)

TCU vs Oklahoma in volleyball in Fort Worth, Texas on October 1, 2016. (Photo by/Sharon Ellman)

Jill Kramer made history as the first scholarship volleyball player at Texas Christian University. Now, in her second season as coach at her alma mater, she is hoping to make a little more history.

Kramer, a 2000 TCU graduate from San Antonio, still holds school records in kills, kills per set and total attacks. However, she’d gladly surrender those marks in exchange for some national success for her program.

“We think we’re turning a corner now. Kids want to be a part of that tradition,” Kramer, 38, said.

TCU’s volleyball program has only been around a couple of decades. However, Kramer said, players are taking notice. In her first coaching season at TCU she led the Lady Frogs to their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2009, finishing 19-10 for their first winning season since 2011. This season, as of Friday, Oct. 14, they were 10-6 overall and 3-3 in the Big 12 Conference.

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They have been especially successful at home, having won seven of their first eight matches.

“It’s definitely our mission to be one of the best programs in the country and recruit the best kids in the nation. It’s been a lot of fun,” Kramer said.

Kramer said when she was hired in December 2014 that she recognized that the administration was willing to make a deeper commitment to the program.

“Volleyball is being treated as one of the top tier sports,” she said. “And our girls were here all summer preparing. They know that’s what the best teams in the country do.

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“Before, it was hard to get players here in the summer.”

Before coming to TCU, she coached at West Virginia University in Morgantown from 2010 to 2014. Though her teams there did not reach the NCAA Tournament, she enjoyed success. In 2013 the Lady Mountaineers got off to their best start in team history (10-0) and went on to their first 20-win season in more than two decades. In 2014 she coached the program’s first two All-Americans in its history, Jordan Anderson and Nikki Attea.

In her first season at TCU, Kramer coached Ashley Smith to honorable mention All-America status, only the fourth player in the TCU program’s history to be so honored.

“It was a totally different environment there, not a lot of volleyball in West Virginia,” Kramer said. “We had to recruit a lot out of state. But I spent four and a half years there and loved it.”

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However, she said, when the opportunity arose, it was time to come home.

Along with expecting a lot from her players on the court, Kramer is known for pushing them to succeed in the classroom. For example, her 2013 West Virginia team was honored with the American Volleyball Coaches Association Team Academic Award, the first in the team’s history.

“It’s just accountability,” she said. “We’re going to help them succeed in the classroom and on the volleyball court. Anything below a B, come talk to the coach about how to improve.”

Kramer decided she wanted to be a coach after graduating from TCU and running a contracting company for a year and a half.

“I decided that I really missed being around the sport and being a part of a team,” she said. “I love having the opportunity to influence young people and help them to learn and grow every day.”

Kramer has also been involved as a coach with USA Volleyball for the past eight years, during which her teams have won an average of five out of every six matches. From 2007-13 she coached at the USA Women’s National Team tryouts in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“Every time I’d come away with new styles and ways to improve as a coach,” Kramer said. “I’ve gotten to work with some amazing people. You come back to your college energized to look at the same people a different way.”

Kramer’s return and subsequent success has certainly energized the fan base. She said season ticket sales doubled in her first season at the helm to 270, and that number has risen this season.

“We only played before about 500 back then,” she recalled of her playing days. “When I played we were in the WAC [Western Athletic Conference], one of the best conferences in the country.”

This season’s roster reflects Kramer’s intentions for long-term success. It features seven seniors, three juniors, four sophomores and six freshmen.

“We did that on purpose. We’ve got a really good group of leaders who are seniors, and we wanted these freshmen to learn from them,” she said.

Kramer is also quick to give credit to her assistants. These include Sara Matthews, assistant coach/recruiting coordinator (second season); Brian Wright, assistant coach (second season); Bryce Williams, director of operations (first season); and Trent Kersten, volunteer assistant (second season).

She noted that Williams has worked with the Olympic Team and Wright has worked with the USA Junior National Team.

“We want to get to where we’re winning Big 12 championships and competing for national championships, and I know we can do that,” Kramer said. “When we do our best job as coaches to take care of players, championships become available.”