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By Brent Ingram, UTA Athletics Communications
ARLINGTON, Texas -- This time last year, Tessa Harfield was finding her way across campus and dealing with the familiar challenges of being a college student.
A native of Haslet, Texas, Harfield had circuitous route, that involved a unique Maverick connection, to becoming a member of the UTA volleyball team.
Harfield was a promising 6-foot-3, all-district recruit out of Northwest High School in 2014. She was recruited heavily in the talented hotbed of the Texas prep volleyball scene but connected most with the coaching staff from Southern Illinois.
She journeyed to play for SIU as a freshman in 2015 but realized early in her first semester that home was in Texas. Harfield decided to give up the sport, manage a full-time job with part-time classes, and move back close to her family and loving support system.
For the last two years, Harfield has been working at Fort Worth's Harris Hospital, while taking classes first at Tarrant County College, and since 2016, UTA.
Despite a full daily agenda, there was one thing Harfield missed: her passion for the sport was still burning.
After playing recreational volleyball, her former club coach Janine Smith - UTA's head coach from 1994-2003 - pointed Harfield in the direction of first-year UTA head coach J.T. Wenger.
In the midst of building his first UTA roster, Wenger was intrigued with the idea of adding a former local standout.
Now she's a starting member of Wenger's first team and has been vital as the Mavericks have dealt with a rash of injuries and illness through the first four weeks of 2017.
"In addition to her volleyball savvy, her personality and contribution to the program has been stellar," Wenger said. "She appreciates being in the program and playing volleyball at this level everyday. That has been a great add to our program."
Harfield has started all 13 matches in her Maverick debut, owning 35 kills, a .194 hitting percentage and 23 blocks, second-best on the team.
"I have progressed a ton," Harfield said about her first 13 matches. "At first, I was very timid. I was just on the court and didn't want to mess up. Now I can see myself doing better and I can feel my confidence coming back to where I feel comfortable taking a kill or a block. It is more of a mindset. It is about tweaking with J.T., Austin (D'Amore) and Courtney (McDonald), who have done an awesome job at teaching me."
Entering UTA's conference opener on Friday vs. Troy at College Park Center, she is riding a streak of double-digit blocks in three-straight games and has had at least two kills in five consecutive matches.
"It has been awesome so far," Harfield said. "The team is great and we all get along super well. I feel like I have a best friend in each of them, which has been awesome to have that support on and off the court."
As a 20-year old, who is athletically classified a freshman, Harfield brings unique wisdom and perspective to the roster.
"From a coaching standpoint it helps me with the true freshmen," Harfield said. "I am a freshman but not really. They can come to me with questions. For Kailyn I was able to help her with some things and I can just be a shoulder they can lean on. From a maturity level, not playing volleyball for two years, I have definitely grown up a ton."
In the classroom, Harfield's post-graduation aspirations showcase the giving nature of her heart.
"Originally I was in nursing and figured out that wasn't for me so I started dabbling," Harfield said. "Then I figured out teaching, and once you are in teaching you have to focus your study a little bit and I started talking to past teachers and friends that I knew that were teachers. One of my friend's mom is a special education teacher and I immediately realized that was my calling and it was going to be a way that I could help people."
While she owns a selfless approach to life and is more mature than your average college newcomer, Harfield still earns a title of team jokester and brings an infectious personality to the roster.
"Fun is a great word to describe Tessa," Wenger said. "She provides a different perspective that not all athletes have. She's had a break from the game which has really made her appreciate how fortunate she is and what a privilege it is to be apart of a program like this. She brings a great perspective for our athletes."
"My dad used to tell me that I was just a giant kid in an adult body," Harfield said. "Life is too short to not have fun with it. I've been in a situation where volleyball was not fun and it is not worth it. I am going to have fun and keep competing. That is the mindset that I have."
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