By Chase Hartsell, Guest Writer
November 16, 2023
When Courtney Hanson, a sophomore on the Ouachita volleyball team, stepped off of the court at Sturgis Physical Education Center (SPEC) on November 2, she was not aware that she had just reached 1,000 assists for the second season in a row. She did not focus on the fact that her assist total topped the Great American Conference (GAC) and ranked sixth in all of Division II. What mattered most to the Tiger setter from Arlington, Texas, was that her latest assist had helped Ouachita win its last home match of the year and clinch a spot in the GAC Volleyball Championships. The moment was only sweetened by the knowledge that her teammate Emily Adams, a fellow native of Arlington, Texas, recorded the kill on the final point.
In college athletics, it is rare to get to play with a high school teammate; it is even rarer to receive the opportunity to compete alongside one’s best friend. For 2022 Arlington-Martin graduates Courtney Hanson and Emily Adams, however, these novelties are made reality every day.
The Tiger sophomores first met and played together through their seventh-grade club volleyball team. According to Adams, she and Hanson, who live two blocks away from each other in Arlington, grew closer by frequently carpooling together. Hanson believes that one particular trip from Texas to Minnesota for a national tournament proved to be a pivotal point in the two’s friendship.
“After driving 16 hours with one person, you’re kind of like, ‘Yeah, we’re stuck together now,’” the setter said.
When Hanson and Adams reached high school, they continued to develop their chemistry on the court as members of the Arlington-Martin Warrior volleyball team. As members of the school’s varsity team, the duo earned a combined five first team all-district selections, eight academic all-district selections, and various all-tournament team selections and MVP awards. Consequently, the two high school standouts earned the attention of multiple college coaches, including Ouachita’s own Allison Frizzell-Kizer.
Four months prior to the start of her senior season with the Warriors, Hanson began talking with the OBU head coach about playing for the Tigers. In August 2021, the Arlington-Martin senior made her official visit to Ouachita.
“When I brought her up to campus, it was almost an immediate connection,” Frizzell-Kizer said.
She remembered telling Hanson that the two could “help influence each other and learn things from each other” by joining forces. Hanson agreed and committed to play for Frizzell-Kizer’s squad the day of her campus visit.
For Emily Adams, however, the decision on where to play college ball took a bit more time. Throughout her senior season, Adams, the reigning winner of most outstanding blocker in her district, remained uncommitted as she and her family weighed her choices. During the 2021 season, Coach Frizzell-Kizer traveled with her father to Arlington to watch both Adams and Hanson play in-person. During the match, a father-daughter conversation served as much-needed motivation to continue recruiting the second half of the Warrior duo.
Later in the season, Frizzell-Kizer received the message she had been waiting for.
“[Emily] texted me during a conference game,” Frizzell-Kizer recounted. “I was in the middle of coaching, and I look[ed] down at my watch. She said, ‘Hey, Coach. Can I come up for a visit?’ I almost stopped coaching right then.”
With the help of assistant coach Darrell Davis, Frizell-Kizer locked in to finish the match at hand. Soon after the final point, Ouachita’s head coach quickly set up a visit with Adams.
“When I came on my visit, I loved it when I [first stepped] on campus,” Adams said of Ouachita. “It definitely made [college] an easier decision.”
After her visit and a time of deliberation, Adams committed to play for the Tigers during the spring of 2022. When she called Allison Frizzell-Kizer with her decision, she gave specific instructions not to tell Hanson yet. The reason? Adams wanted to call her longtime teammate and tell her the news personally.
“When [Emily] told me that, I knew that something was special because she wanted to tell her best friend that she committed,” Frizell-Kizer said. “It was really special for her to tell me that and for her to tell [Courtney] that they were going to get to play together [at Ouachita].”
“I was super excited whenever [Emily] committed,” Hanson remembered. “I was over the moon. It was something we had never thought would actually happen. As kids, you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, this would be so much fun.’ [We had] never thought that it was realistic, but it obviously was.”
The moment proved to be an indicator of special things to come for Hanson and Adams. In their freshman season with the Tigers, the two best friends appeared in all 31 of Ouachita’s matches. Hanson, the starting setter for the entirety of OBU’s 2022 campaign, recorded 1,053 assists en route to a Second Team All-GAC selection. Adams, who split time between the right side hitter and middle blocker positions, earned a spot on the All-GAC Honorable Mention Team with 289 kills and a team-best .308 hitting percentage.
In addition to strengthening the duo’s friendship, the 2022 season provided Hanson and Adams with an opportunity to grow closer as teammates. Now with eight years of experience playing together, the Arlington natives have developed a level of chemistry seldom found at the collegiate level.
“I can tell how I need to set [a] ball based on the breath that [Emily] has and how she’s calling for [the] ball,” Hanson said. “I just know, and it’s really easy to understand [her] because we are so in sync.”
Despite their familiarity with each other, the duo still finds ways to surprise one another.
“Even after playing together for so long, [Courtney] will do something and I’m [thinking], ‘How on earth did that even happen?’” Adams explained. “She never ceases to amaze me.”
Although Adams and Hanson are only sophomores, their teammates voted for them to serve as two of the Tigers’ four captains for the 2023 season. According to Frizell-Kizer, the two bring distinct, yet complimentary leadership skills to the program.
“Off the court, Emily does things behind the scenes that no one asks her to do,” the Tiger head coach said. She’s actually in charge of our laundry; she takes it upstairs for me, [and] she gets it all together. She shags balls, she’s always cheering, she’s handing people balls [during drills]. Courtney is more of the vocal leader, [saying,] ‘Hey, I need you to do this. We need to do this. We’ve got this next point.’ Both of them are leading in their own way, but they work together for the betterment of the team.”
When Ouachita found itself 3-6 after the first nine GAC matches of 2023, the two sophomore captains didn’t back down from the challenge of competing for one of the conference’s eight tournament bids.
“They just put their heads down to work,” Frizzell-Kizer said.
The work paid off: the Tigers won six of their final seven matches (including the team’s first sweep of top-seeded Harding since 1988) to clinch the number seven seed in the Great American Conference Volleyball Championships. During those seven matchups, Hanson totaled 247 assists, while Adams tallied 77 kills.
Fittingly, Ouachita’s tournament-clinching play saw the ball in the hands of the dynamic duo from Arlington-Martin. Playing in front of a packed house on Senior Night at SPEC, the Tigers reached match point in the fourth set against Southern Arkansas (SAU). At the end of an intense volley, a dig by freshman Kylie Kisgen reached the hands of Hanson. As had been the case many times before, Hanson knew exactly where Adams was on the floor and set the ball accordingly. In one swift motion, Adams sent the ball into the Muleriders’ back left corner for the 25th point of the set. Ouachita was headed to the GAC Volleyball Championships.
“The number one priority was getting a win for the seniors,” Adams said of the final point against SAU. “In that moment, I was like, ‘This has gone on long enough. Let’s end it now.’ When [we] punched our ticket [to the tournament], that was definitely a big cherry on top.”
With the regular season now in the rearview mirror, Hanson emphasized the possibilities of the upcoming conference tournament.
“Once we hit the tournament, it’s anybody’s game,” Hanson said. “It doesn’t matter where we’re seeded [or] who we’re playing. It all comes down to what we do [as a team].”