DENTON (10/31/06) Normally it would not be reasonable to put Tara Hooser in the same thought process as Cal Ripken Jr. and Brett Favre; however, people should all take a second look.
Known for their “iron man” status in their respective sports, Ripken and Favre are admired for their grit and perseverance in setting endurance streaks in baseball and football Ripken with 2,632 consecutive games played in Major League Baseball, and Favre having started 229 consecutive games for the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.
But quietly Hooser has amassed a streak of 116 consecutive matches played for the Mean Green volleyball team. It is more than any other player to put on a Mean Green uniform since the program’s inception in 1976.
“I knew what she was doing on the court,” head coach Cassie Headrick said, “but in the past she hasn’t drawn a lot of attention because she is such a consistent player.”
Hooser, who is one of only two seniors on this season’s Mean Green squad, has improved her numbers and her play in each of her four seasons for North Texas. She has gone from averaging only 0.65 kills per game as a freshman, to 3.06 as a senior.
Along with the designation of being a senior has come the added responsibility of leadership in 2006 for Hooser, but she has embraced that accountability in her own lively way. She wants to set a good example for her younger teammates, and does just that by bringing a fueling enthusiasm to the court each night for the Mean Green.
It is that exuberance, coupled with her unswerving play that has won over her teammates, coaches and even the fans.
The Mean Green fans have adopted Hooser’s last name as North Texas’ version of Ja’Mar Tombs and Darryl “Moose” Johnston. Each time she is announced, whether in introductions or for one of her game successes, it immediately sends the green-clad crowd into its reflex of “Hoooooser!” throughout the arena.
“Even my dad gets really into it. I like it, but it’s still weird to hear everyone say my name like that,” Hooser said.
Intrigued by the Dallas area and sold on North Texas by Headrick, Hooser came to Denton four years ago to be a part of a winning program and has gotten her wish. But it has not been in the ideal sequence.
The Mean Green put up 22 wins in Hooser’s first season (2003), but only managed to notch 21 wins over the next two seasons; however, the 2006 version of the Mean Green has already posted 19 wins and sits in a tie for first place in the Sun Belt’s Western Division.
“It feels like it is paying off to be here for four years,” Hooser said. “It’s paying off to work this hard for this long.”
This season she has surpassed her previous season highs in kills (321) and attacks (933), all while putting up her highest hitting percentage of her career (.214). She has led North Texas in kills in 15 of the team’s 30 matches and even picked up her second career double-double in a big road win over Florida Atlantic.
A prime example of perseverance and improvement, Hooser will be a difficult player and personality for Headrick to replace in 2007; but, the foundation that she has helped build will undoubtedly aid in that task.
“I think it was on the plane to Denver I looked over at her and it just really hit me of how hard she will be to replace,” Headrick said. “She has just been a quiet little contributor, and it’s impossible to replace someone with that much experience.”
No matter what direction the Mean Green goes in the years to come, Hooser has placed herself in an elite category of North Texas players with her longevity and production. With only four regular-season matches remaining in her career, she could finish in the top five in both attacks and kills in school history.
The Mean Green has three matches on the road before returning to Denton for senior night against Denver on Nov. 11. The match could determine the winner of the SBC West and be instrumental in securing a high seed for the conference tournament.