Texas Longhorn libero and outside hitter Amy Neal watched the Duke-American volleyball match on the Internet because a former teammate was on the court.
Neal, a sophomore who’s a former Lake Travis star, was focused on American University middle blocker Morgan Hendrix, also a former Cavalier. When unranked American pulled off its stunning upset of No. 14 Duke on Saturday, Hendrix screamed, stomped on the floor and joined her teammates for an impromptu group hug at midcourt.
“No one can reach Morgan’s level of enthusiasm on the court,” Neal said Tuesday before a Longhorn practice.
The matchup between Texas and American on Friday in the NCAA tournament will serve as a Lake Travis reunion for longtime friends Neal and Hendrix. They have not been together on a volleyball court since Hendrix headed to Alabama in 2010 for her freshman season with the Crimson Tide.
After one season at Alabama, Hendrix transferred to American in Washington, D.C., and the 6-foot-3-inch senior described the move as “one of the best things that ever happened to me.” While all eight Southeastern Conference teams that reached the NCAA volleyball tournament already have been eliminated, American —the Patriot League champion — continues onward.
“I was reading a message board (last week) that said Duke had an easy draw (in the opening round),” Hendrix said. “I was thinking, if that’s really the case, let’s make sure they leave with bruises and battle scars. The funny thing is, we never considered ourselves an underdog.”
After the Eagles defeated Duke at fabled Cameron Indoor Arena, Hendrix texted her old friend in Austin: “Amy, looks like we’re playing each other next week.”
Neal said she was thrilled for Hendrix, the centerpoint of a team that has advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.
Although they are close, Neal and Hendrix, who were high school teammates for two years, are not cut from the same personality cloth.
“When we played at Lake Travis, Morgan would go crazy before games,” Neal recalled. “You could see that same enthusiasm on the last point (of the American-Duke match). She makes you want to be like that.”
Hendrix has shown outsized energy and enthusiasm “since birth,” her mother, Patsy Harrell, joked.
“Morgan has always been loud,” Harrell said. “She was yelling so much one day with her club team (Austin Performance), she got a hernia. She had surgery a few days later and was back in no time.”
Hendrix, who plans to graduate in May with a degree in film and media arts, said she and Neal are “polar opposites.”
“Amy is always calm, cool, collected,” Hendrix said. “So chill. She just plays volleyball. Everything has always come naturally for her.”
Neal was selected the 2011 Central Texas player of the year by the American-Statesman after leading Lake Travis to the UIL Class 4A state title with a 50-0 record.
Hendrix will soon conclude her college career after setting two single-season records — blocks per game and block assists per game — at American.
“This is a perfect bookend to finish college volleyball,” she said. “My coach (Barry Goldberg) has talked to me about going overseas and playing professionally, but it was always my dream to play in college and go to a great school. I could not have asked for more.”
NCAA VOLLEYBALL TOURNAMENT
Friday-Saturday, Lincoln, Neb.
Friday — Texas (25-2) vs. American (34-2), 5 p.m.; Nebraska (25-6) vs. San Diego (24-7), 8 p.m.
Saturday — Friday’s winners, 8 p.m., ESPNU