UTSA volleyball standout McKenzie Adams chuckles now when she recalls how she teased her older sister Ashley about her college choice.
"I kind of made fun of her for staying close to home," Adams said.
Ashley's college: UTSA.
As McKenzie would attest after transferring from Virginia in August 2011, sometimes the happiness you're looking for is in your own backyard.
Now a junior in her second season at UTSA, McKenzie ranks as one of the best players in the Western Athletic Conference.
A 2010 Steele High School graduate, Adams has recorded a double-double -- kills and digs -- in 11 of the Roadrunners' 17 matches this season, and is on pace to finish her college career as one of the most honored volleyball players in UTSA history.
UTSA, 12-5 overall and 5-2 in the WAC, plays New Mexico State (12-5, 6-1) Thursday night in the first of four consecutive road matches for the Roadrunners. Tied for third in the WAC, UTSA plays at Denver on Saturday, at Utah State on Monday and at Texas State on Oct. 20.
Adams has hit her groove with the Roadrunners, who are coached by Laura Groff.
Adams is playing in her third conference
"I'm really happy with the choice I made," Adams said, responding to a question about her decision to transfer to UTSA. "I love the people I'm surrounded by at UTSA. It's a great group."
Adams, who leads the Roadrunners in points (4.6) and kills (4.1) per frame, was named the Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year last season and also earned first-team All-SLC honors. UTSA moved into the WAC this year and will jump to Conference USA next season.
"I'm really excited about the competition we're facing in the WAC now and the competition we'll face in Conference USA next year," Adams said. "By the time I graduate, I will have played in four different conferences. I guess you could say I'm testing them all out."
Adams was Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year when she played at Virginia in 2010.
Adams, who grew up in Schertz, acknowledges now that her perception of UTSA as a commuter school with little campus life was way off base.
"I was very surprised," she said. "After I looked around, it blew me away how big it was. It feels more like a college campus than a community college. I think having football has helped create that atmosphere."
Groff describes Adams, who is 6-foot-3, as an "unbelievable athlete" who can carry a team with her bountiful frontcourt and backcourt skills.
"Being 6-3 and playing at the height of the net, she can hit around and over people," Groff said. "She's very, very powerful and quick off the floor. She's the epitome of a great athlete. She's a great passer and a great digger. She's just so powerful. When she hits the ball so hard, she just pounds the defense."
Adams never took to Virginia
Adams started playing volleyball at age 10, when Ashley was a college freshman, and steadily developed into one of the best players in the state. By early in her junior year at Steele, McKenzie already had committed to Virginia.
Recruited by former UTSA assistant coach Jill Pape-Kramer, a San Antonio native with whom she developed a close bond, Adams was outstanding in her first college season. Honored as freshman of the year in the NCAA East Region, she broke the Virginia freshman single-match record for kills with 29 and was among the Cavaliers' top players statistically.
Still, she wasn't entirely happy. Deeply disappointed after Kramer left Virginia to become head coach at West Virginia shortly before the start of Adams' freshman year, Adams never quite got along with then-head coach Lee Maes.
"It wasn't what I expected," Adams said. "Maes and I didn't really agree on things. We kind of butted heads a little bit."
After staying at Virginia through the end of summer school in 2011, Adams quit the Cavaliers' squad that August and returned to San Antonio.
"I just didn't think it was the place for me," she says now.
When Groff learned that Adams was back in San Antonio, she called Maes to ask his permission to speak with her.
"I made a few phone calls and said I would love to have her," Groff said.
After getting her release from Virginia, Adams played her first match with UTSA in the Pioneers Classic in Denver on Sept. 9.
"I love being around my teammates," Adams said. "I think we're doing well. We're working hard and trying to get better. There are no cakewalks in the WAC. There are good teams and great teams, so we're going to have to step it up. But I believe we should be able to compete with every team."
And her perception of UTSA now?
"The sky's the limit for us," she said.