Top-10 U? How TCU athletics has become a powerhouse this spring

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Jordan Westendorff bought into the vision of what beach volleyball could become at TCU when she joined the program.

She didn’t care that there aren’t beaches in Fort Worth. After all, she grew up in the area and played at Highland Park High School and for the Carrollton-based Excel Volleyball Club. She wasn’t overly concerned about the program being in its infancy stages, either, as it just started play in 2015.

Instead, she focused on what it could become, and TCU has become a national contender in beach volleyball. The Frogs reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history this week. They are the 8-seed and will face top-seeded UCLA on Friday with hopes of making a run to the championship.

“We’ve been talking about the national championship since I was a freshman here,” Westendorff said. “This isn’t something that was like, ‘Oh, we knew we’d be good this year.’ We’ve been aiming to win a national championship since I first got here.”

The beach volleyball team is just one of several TCU programs with realistic dreams of hoisting trophies this spring. It’s become a banner semester — and year — for TCU athletics.

Along with beach volleyball (No. 8), other programs in the top 10 include baseball (No. 3), women’s soccer (No. 4) and men’s tennis (No. 7). TCU had two sports close their seasons in the top 10 this year, too: No. 2 rifle and No. 6 equestrian.

As far as Westendorff is concerned, it’s not surprising to see several sports succeeding at once. It’s what’s become expected at TCU.

“What makes TCU so special is the small school feel,” she said. “We’re all getting better together. We all expect each other to put in the work to be great. It’s a tight-knit community. That drive to be great is in TCU athletics and that’s something that makes TCU athletics so special.”

Westendorff used an example of the weight room and how every strength coach, whether it’s the football or baseball or beach volleyball, is helping athletes from different sports reach their potential. It extends beyond that too.

Men’s tennis coach David Roditi recalled going to lunch with baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle, shortly after TCU hired Roditi in September 2010.

Schlossnagle had just taken the baseball program to its first College World Series, and Roditi wanted to do similar things with the tennis program.

“I told Schloss, you have the program we want to have in a few years. We’ve modeled it after baseball,” Roditi said. “There’s a lot of similarities because we’re both battling scholarship issues and the cost of TCU going up and up. But the community has done a great job of embracing us.

“The success of football is huge for us too. What Coach P [Gary Patterson] has done the last 10 years — the American kid wants to go to a college with the big football experience. It’s all come together for us and the administration has been very supportive with all the crazy stuff we’ve done with the fans.”

Roditi has become known for turning TCU into a home-court advantage for the tennis program, joking: “I like telling people, coming to a TCU tennis match is like going to a wedding without the boring ceremony.”

Hey, it’s worked out. Fans who haven’t experienced it have a chance to this weekend. The men’s tennis team received a national ranking as the 7-seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament, meaning it’ll host a regional in Fort Worth.

TCU faces Arkansas at 2 p.m. Saturday. The other match is Wichita State vs. Arizona.

The third-ranked baseball team, meanwhile, is hosting a pivotal three-game series next door at Lupton Stadium. No. 6 Texas visits town.

The list of events goes on.

The women’s soccer team is playing 13-seed Georgetown in a Sweet 16 match Wednesday night in Cary, North Carolina. The women’s golf team is in the NCAA Tournament where it’ll be in the Stanford Regional, which starts Monday.

The men’s golf program is expected to make its 31st straight NCAA Regional appearance, too, as the bracket is revealed today.

When all is said and done, TCU should have 13 of 21 sports that earned an opportunity to be represented in postseason play by either teams or individuals, including football before its bowl game was canceled.

“It is really exciting to watch our programs competing at such a high level,” TCU athletic director Jeremiah Donati said. “We’ve never asked more of our student athletes than we have in the 2020-21 academic year, so it is incredibly gratifying to see their had work and perseverance rewarded.”

Going forward, the key is to sustain this type of success. At TCU and just about every other school, the success of the athletic department is largely viewed on how well the football team does. But there’s more than just football, of course.

For Donati, the secret to TCU’s success has been hiring the right coaches.

Whether it’s how Patterson has raised the expectations of the football program, Schlossnagle making multiple runs to the College World Series or Karen Monez winning multiple national championships in rifle, TCU has elite-level coaches running just about every program.

Donati pointed toward a couple of coaches who have grown their programs in a very thorough and methodical way that should help keep them relevant for years in Eric Bell (soccer) and Hector Gutierrez (beach volleyball).

“We hired these coaches to improve the profile of their respective programs and raise the overall performance level,” Donati said. “They have done just that.”

Success breeds success too.

For instance, the men’s tennis program can point toward a former player such as Cameron Norrie, who has gone on to play in every grand slam event as a professional. The men’s golf program just saw Paul Barjon win a tournament on the Korn Ferry Tour and essentially solidify his PGA Tour card for next season. The women’s soccer team had their highest draft pick in program history when Yazmeen Ryan was taken sixth overall by the NWSL’s Portland Thorns.

“I always say, there’s really no place like TCU,” Frogs senior goalkeeper Emily Alvarado said. “It’s a great place to come in and raise your level in every single way — academically and in your sport. It’s really cool to see all these different sports excelling. It’s just a testament to all the hard work that the players put in and everyone behind the scenes. We have a great support staff that gives us all the help we need to reach the next level.”

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