By Jim Irish
Former Cedar Creek volleyball star Brooke Townsend has had a successful run as a student-athlete, but she encompasses much more than those roles.
Townsend, a 5-foot-11 outside/opposite hitter, recently completed a stellar five-year career on the volleyball team at Division I University of Texas at Arlington. A true student-athlete at any Division I college devotes uncountable hours and energy in both areas. Townsend, however, has also carved out time to serve last spring as vice-president of the student-athlete advisory committee (SAAC) and this fall as the president.
According to its mission statement, SAAC's aim is to provide student-athletes the opportunity to communicate more effectively with the UTA athletic administration, coaches, and staff.
“During the season, it’s easy to just feel like I’m an athlete, (and that) my purpose as a human resides in my performance as an athlete,” said Townsend, a 22-year-old graduate student.
SAAC seeks to dispel the stereotype that athletes are self-focused, she said. One of the organization's goals entails an outreach to the community.
“We connect the student-athlete with the community,” she said. “We bring more of a presence.”
During November, SAAC sponsored a canned food drive and collected funds to purchase Thanksgiving meals for families in the community. Townsend said the volleyball team donated eight turkeys to Mission Arlington, a ministry close to the campus.
A teammate explained to Townsend the volunteer opportunities with SAAC during her freshman year. Townsend dived in.
'I have always had a heart for giving back and working with the community," Townsend said. "So I knew I would find joy
in what SAAC strives for. It has prepared me for life outside of sports, which I'm super grateful for."
Ten years ago, Townsend gravitated to volleyball in seventh grade after participating in select soccer as a child.
“I did not expect to love volleyball as much as I did,” she said. “I found my passion for it. I was just really eager. There’s a lot of diving for the ball and being scrappy. I love playing scrappy.”
During an outstanding volleyball career at Cedar Creek, Townsend was selected district hitter of the year as a senior in 2017 and twice to the all-district first team.
"She's been a leader, a teammate, a friend, and a competitor. These qualities will take her far..."
-- Former Cedar Creek coach Jason Langman about Brooke Townsend
Jason Langman, Townsend’s volleyball coach for three years at Cedar Creek, attended UTA's home match on Nov. 10. Townsend had 10 kills in a highly competitive five-set Western Athletic Conference loss to Utah Tech.
“Brooke was always a phenomenal athlete, player, and person…,” said Langman, the current coach at Pflugerville, via email. “She got her schooling paid for and has learned life lessons that will help her be successful in her future endeavors. She’s been a leader, a teammate, a friend, and a competitor. These qualities will take her far…”
On full scholarship at UTA, Townsend has been in the starting lineup for four of five seasons (the fifth because of Covid). She had her best season as a sophomore in which she led the team with 413 kills and was All-Sun Belt Conference second team in 2019. She repeated again on the second team in 2020. She achieved a goal of reaching 1,000 kills after her fourth season (1,076) and finished her career ranked No. 10 all-time with 1,297.
This season, UTA finished fifth in the WAC with a 9-5 record (17-10 overall) but failed to qualify for the playoffs.
UTA volleyball coach J.T. Wenger was hired shortly before Townsend and was instrumental in recruiting her. Townsend has played the “pins,” meaning both left side and right side hitter.
“When she came in, she was jumpy with a good arm,” Wenger said. “She’s sustained that the whole run. She was very diligent in keeping up her physicality.”
Wenger mentioned Townsend’s improvement over the years as a blocker.
“Sometimes that shows up in stats, sometimes not,” he said. “She got really good at knowing what threats were coming at her and being able to orient her body and her arms in a place to get some good touches and blocks.”
Wenger complimented Townsend for her impact on the program and at the college.
"Brooke has been a fantastic ambassador, not only for the volleyball program but in athletics in general. She has represented herself and the program incredibly well as a young woman."
-- UTA coach J.T. Wenger
“Brooke has been a fantastic ambassador, not only for the volleyball program but in athletics in general,” he said. “She has represented herself and the program incredibly well as a young woman.”
Townsend will graduate in the spring with a master’s degree in business administration and plans to work in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Although she has finished her career as an athlete, she has already begun coaching club volleyball as an assistant coach for a girls age 12 team and as head coach for a girls 15 team in Mansfield, a suburb of Dallas.
Townsend still has the passion for the sport.
Jim Irish is a freelance writer living in Bastrop, Texas