Esha Atkins didn’t have the butterflies and chills high school athletes feel when they sign college scholarship or committal papers.
Not when she committed to play basketball for the University of Texas-Tyler before the season, or during a ceremony in the Killeen High gym in mid-May.
“After my signing, I just kept thinking about I’m seriously not playing volleyball. And it didn’t feel right,” the former Lady Roos setter said. “I started feeling something in my heart that it wasn’t right.”
Atkins never gave up on playing volleyball in college and she finally felt the butterflies and chills when she signed to play for Division II Virginia Union University.
“It felt perfect,” Atkins said. “I love this sport and I’m going to continue playing. ... Everything felt like it was in the moment. It was just really right for me.”
Numerous Division I schools recruited the two-sport Killeen athlete for volleyball during the year, but they didn’t meet her initial in-state and degree major requirements. After committing to play basketball at UT-Tyler, the volleyball calls kept coming, and Atkins’ doubt continued to grow.
“I just knew that Esha didn’t want to play basketball. Esha wanted to play volleyball, but she felt like she needed to be playing some kind of sport,” Killeen volleyball coach Shelly Harris said. “She is a good basketball player, but I felt like she really needed to be playing volleyball — that’s what her love is and that’s what she wanted to do.”
Atkins, a two-time first-team all-district selection in both basketball and volleyball, entertained the volleyball suitors and eventually loosened her stance on out-of-state institutions. But, Division I programs like Savannah State and Morgan State that she’d shut out before had now moved on.
“I started off from scratch, because I felt like once I let them down, I couldn’t just go back to them and be like, OK, can I get a second chance because when I shut the door, I know that their recruiting process continued,” Atkins said.
Atkins stuck to her commitment to basketball and UT-Tyler, knowing if no better volleyball opportunity presented itself, she was going to play basketball for the Patriots.
Then, Virginia Union volleyball coach Rachel Hunt called. Atkins didn’t immediately answer, believing the unrecognizable number belonged to a telemarketer.
“(Coach Hunt) was so excited, she was like, ‘I need you. I need you to help me rebuild my program.’ It just kind of felt like I’m going to be at home,” Atkins said.
Atkins talked to the coach and players and visited the Richmond, Va. campus and more and more, Virginia Union felt like the exact opportunity she sought. Atkins said she has family “around the area,” and the school offers a good criminal justice program.
The Panthers just needed her signature.
“It really felt like I was making the right decision,” Atkins said. “I got over my little hump of not wanting to go out of state, because I knew if I had volleyball and it (the college) had my major, that I was going to be OK. And, I had breaks, I could come home during all breaks. It definitely feels right.”