Roethlisberger now a two-net star
Sooner basketball star now turning heads on volleyball court
Carlee Roethlisberger’s basketball career may have ended, but she is still spending her time on a hardwood court at Oklahoma, there’s just a different ball and bigger net now.
Roethlisberger was a key player for the highly-successful Sooners’ women’s basketball program over the past four years, and a part of a senior class that compiled a 104-37 record and advanced to the Women’s Final Four in 2009 and ’10. A native of Findlay, Ohio, Roethlisberger finished her basketball career with 139 games played – the third-most in Big 12 history.
But Roethlisberger was not quite ready to hang up her Sooners’ jersey, so this 6-1 forward decided to try her hand at a sport she had given up four years earlier.
“It was a tough choice to pick between basketball and volleyball when I first started college,” Roethlisberger said. “As basketball winded down, I thought about volleyball, and was blessed that I was still healthy and could move pretty well. I figured if I could have a second chance to do it, why not while I still can.”
The decision was something Oklahoma head volleyball coach Santiago Restrepo had been hoping would eventually happen one day.
“Every time I saw her in the athletics department, I would always say, ‘don’t forget about volleyball,’” Restrepo said. “’Don’t forget you can play for us.’ I was kind of planting the seed so that in her fifth year, she could actually come back and play volleyball, and she did.”
After basketball season ended last March, Roethlisberger, a former high school volleyball star, made her first serious attempt in four years to play the sport during the Sooners’ spring practices.
“In my first four years at Oklahoma, there were maybe three times that I was out in the sand messing around,” Roethlisberger said. “Besides that, I had done absolutely nothing with volleyball. Those three weeks that I practiced with them in the spring was like my trial period. I knew I wasn’t going to be great, but if I could go out there and get the hang of things, then I was going to play in the fall. I didn’t go out there and swing and miss, so that was a good sign.”
Restrepo says his new middle blocker has a very good jump and long arms that allow her to penetrate well and get a lot of touches on blocking.
“Her ability to move from side to side because of her athleticism -- not too many people are able to do that and still be close enough to block,” Restrepo said. “She needs to work on her reads and knowing where the setter is going to go with the ball, but once she gets that, she’s very fast to defend.”
And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that Roethlisberger hails from an athletically gifted family. Her father Ken played quarterback at Georgia Tech, and her mother Brenda spent one season on the Northwest Missouri State women’s basketball team. Not to mention, Roethlisberger’s brother Ben is the starting quarterback for the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers and has led his team to a pair of Super Bowl titles in 2005 and ’08.
Roethlisberger, who has played in each of the No. 16 Sooners’ first four matches, leads the team in total blocks (16) and blocks per set (1.60), but is the first to acknowledge she needs work on the fundamentals of the sport.
“I just watched volleyball film for the first time the other day,” Roethlisberger said. “I had absolutely no idea what I was looking for. They handed me these sheets and it was pretty confusing. In high school, there was a little bit of strategy behind volleyball, but nothing compared to what it is now. You really need that to beat the good teams.”
Restrepo sees Roethlisberger improving every time she steps on the court.
“It’s hard to not play for four years, and then come back to it,” Restrepo said. “I think the more she gets acquainted with everybody and the skills, the better she becomes.”
When Roethlisberger played her first volleyball match against SMU on Aug. 26, her parents flew down to be there, and her basketball teammates made shirts with her face and number in support.
She says being a member of the volleyball squad has brought back her love of playing the game.
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“I wasn’t really nervous because I’ve played in some big games with basketball,” Roethlisberger said. “They had a lot of confidence in me, and that made me more confident in myself. It’s a different feeling than basketball.
“With basketball I stressed about a lot of things because I wanted to be great at it. The expectations from my coaches and teammates were really high. With volleyball, while I’m giving everything I have and I want to do great for them, they know I haven’t played in four years. I can play more carefree and give everything I have and have fun with it.”
While she may be taking a different personal approach on the court these days, Roethlisberger’s expectations for the volleyball program are still high. Last year, the Sooners advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five years and for the first time were awarded hosting duties for the first and second round. Oklahoma also reached the NCAA Tournament Round of 16 for the third time in program history.
“[With Oklahoma] basketball, you go into the season expecting to win a national championship,” Roethlisberger said. “It was a standard that we had set for ourselves over the years. In volleyball, I see the same type of thing building.”
Roethlisberger may only be a part of the program’s climb for a short time as she is in her final year of eligibility, her coaches and teammates are glad to have her on their journey this season.
“She’s very savvy, and an extremely gifted athlete,” Restrepo said. “This only happens with a very gifted athlete -- switching sports and not losing a beat.”