Haley Eckerman’s biggest fan won’t be in the KeyArena audience on Thursday. He’ll be watching on television with his aunt in Austin.
Eckerman, an All-American outside hitter for Texas, gave birth to Cayden in May 2010. Travel costs on a student-athlete budget prevented Eckerman from bringing her toddler to Seattle for Texas’ NCAA Final Four semifinal match against Wisconsin.
But Cayden relayed an important message on Wednesday.
“OK mom, we’ll see you on TV,” he said with his smile visible via “FaceTime” on Eckerman’s phone.
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“Thank God for it,” Eckerman said. “Otherwise that would make it even harder. Especially the older he’s gotten. He likes to talk and show things.”
Cayden was able to see his mother win the 2012 NCAA championship in person. This season, Eckerman’s younger sister, Aleah will watch with Cayden on ESPN2. She’s part of a growing support system Eckerman just admitted she needs.
“That wall broke,” said Eckerman of not communicating. “I’ve always been known as the tough girl and wanted to do everything on my own. So that was probably the biggest thing that changed this year.”
Eckerman was a junior in high school when a visit to the doctor’s office for achy ribs revealed she was actually six months pregnant. Texas coach Jerritt Elliott reassured Eckerman her scholarship would be honored and she’d be supported as a single mother.
A day can be intense — juggling making a dentist appointment for Cayden, practice and classes if Eckerman’s mother has to work and her sister has a volleyball match. But Eckerman, whose family, including her grandparents, relocated from their native Iowa to Austin, is feeling more comfortable about asking for help.
The family also finally moved into their own home in October, out of a second-floor apartment. Cayden even has his own TV room.
“It’s so nice,” Eckerman said of the newfound space and support.
• No. 12 seed Wisconsin (27-9) finished in a fourth-place tie in the Big Ten and has not yet faced a seeded team in the tournament after the top two teams in its regional, No. 4 Missouri and No. 5 Florida, both lost in the second round.
The Badgers swept California, a fifth-place team in the Pac-12, in the second round and defeated Purdue, sixth in the Big Ten, 3-1 in a regional final. First-year Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield did not apologize for being here. “We didn’t luck ourselves into this,” he said. “We didn’t walk backwards into this. We hit it straight on with some really, really good teams playing in the best conference in America. (Nine Big Ten teams reached the tournament.) This team deserves to be here.”
• Wisconsin’s lineup features a 5-foot-7 outside hitter, junior Deme Morales. She and Washington’s 5-8 Cassie Strickland are rarities in the modern Division I game: outsides under 6 feet tall.
“Not only 5-7 on the outside but we’ve got a 5-11 middle (Dominique Thompson) and they’re lined up next to each other,” said Sheffield. “Everybody is sitting there going, well, we’re just going to pound over that. But most of these teams have one of their lowest hitting percentage(s) of the year. We’ve seen that over and over …
“She’s getting it done with toughness and moxie,” Sheffield said of Morales.
• UW coach Jim McLaughlin and Penn State’s Russ Rose have been pals since both were coaching men’s volleyball in the 1990s. He was asked why they get along so well since sometimes coaches do not. “Well, if he wants to come at me, he’s got to realize I’m in a different weight class,” Rose joked. “Jim, John Cook (the Nebraska coach with whom McLaughlin had a brief dust up) are in the same weight class, eating stuff like yogurt. You don’t go after a guy who eats meat all the time.”
Special correspondent Terry Wood contributed to this report.