Eckerman Forms Team Dream with Bold Mission

By Bill Kauffman (bill.kauffman@usav.org) | May 26, 2018, 8:56 p.m. (ET)

Team Dream formed by Haley Eckerman
Haley Eckerman (far left) has formed the first all-African-American team competing in the USA Volleyball Open National Championships Open Division, making a bold mission to create role models for today's youth.

DALLAS (May 26, 2018) – Haley Eckerman is one of the best volleyball players in the world and is putting forth a historical and bold statement this week in Dallas during the 89th USA Volleyball Open National Championships thanks to the 2018 movie mega-hit Black Panther.

A native of Iowa, Eckerman landed a starring role with the University of Texas from 2011 to 2014. She helped the Longhorns win the 2012 NCAA Championship. After a collegiate career that included two AVCA All-America First-Team selections and three straight Big 12 Player of the Year awards, Eckerman has had a successful pro career overseas.

It is easy to see how volleyball has given so much to Eckerman. Now she is turning the tables and giving back to the sport in a most important way this week while playing in the Open Division of the Open National Championships inside the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Dallas.

Related: USAV Open National Championships Info | Watch Live Stream

Haley EckermanLeadership within USA Volleyball has made it a priority to broaden the sport’s ethnic diversity within its membership and bring the game to a wider audience. Eckerman is doing her part with the formation of her Open Nationals team – Team Dream.

Pulling together her connections from USA Volleyball’s High Performance pipeline, her home state of Iowa and her adopted state of Texas, Eckerman created Team Dream with all 12 players being African-American. It is the first such team to compete together in the Open Division of the signature USA Volleyball national championship. And part of that impetus came after watching Black Panther.

“I think part of it was that the movie Black Panther had just come out,” Eckerman said. “Khat Bell and I were trying to create a team (for USA Volleyball Open National Championships) and noticed that a lot of the girls were African-American (that we had been invited to play). We saw the effect that the movie had on some of the younger kids. For me, I saw two little boys pointing at the poster outside the movie theater and trying to figure out which character they were.”

That trip to the movies led to the Team Dream formation – an all-African-American squad featuring some of the best collegiate players from the last half decade. The team boasts three of Eckerman’s University of Texas teammates in Khat Bell, Chloe Collins and Sha’Dare McNeal. While she is from Iowa herself, the Team Dream has a distinct Texas flavor with six players from the Lone Star State in Bell (Mesquite, Texas), Collins (Cypress, Texas), Carnae Dillard (San Antonio), Erin Fairs (Richmond, Texas), Jenelle Jordan (Houston) and Allegra Wells (Garland, Texas). Eckerman also picked up two teammates from her home state of Iowa in Kaz Brown (Waterloo, Iowa)) and Monique Harris (Clinton, Iowa). Only Chanelle Gardner and Haleigh Washington do not have direct Texas or Iowa ties.

“A lot of us, especially Kaz (Brown) and I, talk about growing up in Iowa we didn’t have the African-American players to look up to,” Eckerman said. “Most African-American players played basketball or ran track. They didn’t go to volleyball. We just wanted a team that girls could look up to, and see a group of not only talented athletes but girls who have gotten their college degrees who are very successful in life playing volleyball together.”

Eckerman traces a lot of each players’ college and pro volleyball successes back to their youth training within USA Volleyball’s High Performance pipeline.

“High Performance has helped a lot, and a lot of us on this team came up through the High Performance pipeline,” Eckerman said. “For Khat and I, our parents were so skeptical doing (HP) because of how much it cost. We were kind of on the fence. This (Team Dream) is showing those girls that, even though our parents did sacrifice a lot, we put in all the sacrifice too and all the hard work. And that is how we were able to continue on to college and now on to professional volleyball.”

Playing “At Home”

Eckerman is glad to have the opportunity to play on American soil in the USA Volleyball Open National Championships, especially when domestic pro leagues currently do not exist as an option.

“It is nice because we don’t have a professional league in the United States,” Eckerman said. “Some people have to watch us on TV or online. This way we are making it so that girls can come see us, not just our team, but also other players who they used to watch growing up. It just helps being in an environment like this, especially when a lot of us are from the Texas area or live in the Texas area. Getting to have family come watch us that don’t get to go overseas. It is nice to get to play in front of family again since we haven’t since college.”

Eckerman has only been back from her Russian pro team for a few days, and her team had just 90 minutes of training together before hitting the court for the first match Saturday morning. She said adjustments have been on the fly, whereas college teams have whole off-seasons to get comfortable playing with one another.

“We only had one practice (Friday) for an hour and a half before starting the tournament,” Eckerman said. “For us, it was trying to get into a rhythm, connect with our setters as fast as we can. We kind of struggled in our fourth set (Saturday morning), and you can see it in our passing. We are trying to work on our relationships. That is what takes forever in college, and we have the offseason to practice on that. Now we are just trying to communicate and work on those relationships as fast as possible and go back to simple, basic volleyball.”

Team Dream, 2-0 after the first day of competition in the Open Division, is working to change the sport’s history through the vision of Eckerman and her teammates. And it has become a bold statement driven by relationships to keep volleyball a lifelong sport for a more inclusive and diverse population.

Team Dream Roster
Khat Bell (University of Texas, Mesquite, Texas)
Kaz Brown (University of Kentucky, Waterloo, Iowa)
Chloe Collins (University of Texas, Cypress, Texas)
Carnae Dillard (University of North Texas, San Antonio, Texas)
Haley Eckerman (University of Texas, Waterloo, Iowa)
Erin Fairs (University of Louisville, Richmond, Texas)
Chanelle Gardner (University of Louisiana-Lafayette, Parks, Louisiana)
Monique Harris (Iowa State University, Clinton, Iowa)
Jenelle Jordan (University of California-Berkeley, Houston, Texas)
Sha’Dare McNeal (University of Texas, San Diego, California)
Haleigh Washington (Penn State University, Colorado Springs, Colorado)
Allegra Wells (University of Mississippi, Garland, Texas)