By Barbara Boxleitner

Daily Light correspondent

What a difference a year made for Serena Patterson.

After her freshman season for the University of Texas at El Paso volleyball team, the Red Oak High School graduate focused on improving her technique.

In her sophomore season the 5-foot-10 outside hitter became a standout, finishing as the squad's leader in multiple categories. Among two to play all 206 sets, she led the team in points and service aces and tied for the lead in kills. All those were career bests.

Patterson improved her hitting technique. "It was footwork and being more aggressive," the junior said. "I wasn't getting my feet under the motion. (Before) I was hitting easier balls."

Once she became more aggressive with her hitting, she made hard contact. "She looks like a skilled volleyball player," UTEP head volleyball coach Ben Wallis said.

She had the arm speed, he said, and though she needed to "just go be a battleship," she "looked more like a tugboat" before making the necessary adjustments.

Patterson had at least 10 kills in 14 matches, with a high of 17 against California State University, Bakersfield. "I've become a reliable hitter," she said.

She was named the Conference USA offensive player of the week in October for her performance during a win over Marshall. She paced the team with 16 kills and 13 digs, one of her team-high six double-doubles for the season.

Besides improving her hitting technique, she changed from a standing float serve to a jump float. The result was an effective serve that had velocity and deceptive movement, helping her quadruple her ace total from that first season. She had a career-high six service aces to lead players from both teams during a win over Louisiana in the second match of the season.

Second on the squad in digs, Patterson had at least 10 digs in 11 matches and had a high of 20 against Louisiana.

She was able to get to more balls because she learned to look for cues as to where the opponent will hit. "She's doing a better job with her eyes," Wallis said. "She's quick off the ground. She's starting to see attackers and what they're trying to do."

"It's more of the angle or the line they're (opponents) taking in their approach," he said.

Patterson said she spent the shutdown time working on her vertical jump to "make sure I didn't lose that."

With the season delayed until the spring, the players have been practicing with face coverings and maintaining social distancing. Wallis is trying to arrange two fall competitions before ending the fall season by October.

Also out of Red Oak High, Zanobia Willis is a freshman middle blocker and right side for University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Hailey Hunt is a freshman outside hitter for Stephen F. Austin State University. She played for Red Oak.

Send updates about area athletes to Barbara Boxleitner at