Junior balances busy home life while dominating net

In her first season with the Cougars, junior outside hitter Katie Norris has become one of the dominant players on UH’s front line with a team-high 139 kills. Norris’ play earned her Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week for UH’s first three conference contests. | Emily Chambers/The Daily Cougar

In her first season with the Cougars, junior outside hitter Katie Norris has become one of the dominant players on UH’s front line with a team-high 139 kills. Norris’ play earned her Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week for UH’s first three conference contests. | Emily Chambers/The Daily Cougar

At any given moment since graduating from Atascocita High School in 2008, it has been difficult to pin down exactly who and where Katie Norris is.

In the past four years she’s gone by many names — a Wildcat at Humble High School, an Eagle at Atascocita, a Rebel at Ole Miss, and as of this fall a Houston Cougar.

But Norris’ most identifiable name over the past two years has had nothing at all to do with her resident school.

In between volleyball road trips, two-a-day practices, and the end of every school day, she can be found answering simply to “mom”.

Norris’ three-year journey from Atascocita High School to Cullen Blvd. began on the hardwood of her high school gym in Humble.

“I didn’t really fall in love with volleyball until I got to high school,” Norris said.

“That’s when I really got into the whole atmosphere. The travel teams, the people at tournaments, it was easy to get into the whole world.”

After transferring to Atascocita from Humble her sophomore year, Norris entered into competitive volleyball having had only three years of coached training.

Though briefly hindered by her lack of formal experience, Norris would excel quickly under the Atascocita staff that recognized her natural flair for the game.

At middle blocker, she was selected to the All-District Honorable Mention Team her sophomore year.

Her second season, the honor was increased to the All District Second Team.

By senior year, she was co-captain.

“The coaches and everyone I played with were great,” Norris said.

“They all made it easy to fall in love with the sport.”

After three impressive seasons between Humble and Atascocita High School, Norris’ play caught the eye of Ole Miss recruiter and head coach Joe Getzin.

Getzin, while considering the Humble native’s impressive high school stats, saw something unique in the senior outside of the box score.

“We saw great athleticism,” Getzin said.

“She hit a heavy ball and had great court awareness. More importantly, she had a great competitive spirit — that’s something all coaches look for.”

Accepting the offer from Getzin, Norris would work her way into the Ole Miss system.

Believing Norris would serve the team better at outside hitter, Getzin moved the freshman from middle blocker to the outside expecting a tough transition process, but better results in the long term.

For Norris however, the move meant leaving a position she had played since middle school, and learned to adjust to mentally over the years.

“It was a difficult transition definitely,” Norris said.

“As a middle everything is really quick, and as an outside you have to learn to be patient. I wasn’t really a very patient person.”

For Getzin though, the transition process was surprisingly smooth. With one year of experience at outside hitter, Norris ranked second in the SEC in total kills midway through her sophomore season.

Under the tutelage of the Ole Miss staff, Norris saw her stock rise. With her dominant play at the net and leadership on the court, there was little sign of heading off course.

That is, until life interrupted.

“Well,” Norris said.

“I got pregnant. So there was my whole ‘found out’ moment, and then the decision of what to do next.”

Life, in the form of her daughter, Ryleigh, became her top priority.

With supporting her daughter as her central concern, Norris moved back to Humble with the plan for her parents to help raise Ryleigh while she continued to pursue a degree.

The decision to leave Ole Miss, while a difficult reality to swallow, appeared the most reasonable choice for Norris.

Not only would she be leaving a promising volleyball career, but also a team full of girls who had quickly become like sisters.

“The team was amazing,” Norris said.

“Everybody was really welcoming. It was a really homey place to be. The girls were really great. It was pretty hard to leave them, I guess. It was a great experience.”

Upon enrolling at UH, Norris trained vigorously after her pregnancy to maintain her athleticism.

The transition from motherhood to a returning student-athlete did not prove as smooth as Norris’s past changes. With Ryleigh as a major part of her life, volleyball at times seemed a relic of another lifetime.

“I had a really difficult time deciding, ‘Do I really want to do this?” Norris said.

“I don’t get to spend a lot of time with her (Ryleigh), or as much as a normal working mom would. It was difficult at first.”

Ultimately, Norris would decide to continue her pursuit of collegiate volleyball with the hope that UH would provide a fit for her changing lifestyle.

“As much as I would love to give my daughter all my time, I just think for me, going to school, getting a degree, and maybe not spending as much time as I would like with her for these two years is worth it,” she said.

After a yearlong absence from competitive play, Norris entered the 2011 season re-energized under second-year head coach Molly Alvey.

“This has been a tough year for her,” Alvey said. “She’s really had to work on time management in a way that a lot players wouldn’t.

“But she never complains. She always has a great attitude.”

Alvey, a former assistant coach under Getzin at Ole Miss, has worked with Norris in the transition process and been impressed with her progress.

“I’ve known Katie for a long time, and she’s always been the same genuine person,” Alvey said.

“But there’s absolutely been growth in her maturity since Ole Miss.”

Opening the season, Norris earned a selection to the All-Tournament Team for her play at the Flo Hyman Collegiate Cup.

Picking up where she left off at Ole Miss, the junior leads UH in kills with 139 and has quickly established her dominance on the frontline.

“Her coming in is a huge piece to our success in conference and moving forward as a program,” Alvey said.

“She really makes her teammates better and brings a great dynamic to our team.”

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