Harding's Lone Senior
Harding University volleyball player Synda Veitenheimer grew up in a Windthorst, Texas, where the cows outnumber the people.
Veitenheimer's family owns a dairy farm like most families in the tiny town with a population of 440. She and her four siblings all worked on the farm for their parents when they were kids.
"We raised cows, and that involved milking them twice a day," said Veitenheimer. "It depends on how many you have as far as how long that takes. It's not by hand as most people ask " we do have machines."
In Windthorst if you're not milking cows, you're playing sports.
"We're well known for athletics in Windthorst," said Veitenheimer. "You come in town and you see a sign that says 'Home of the Champions.' We're brought up to be disciplined because everyone else who comes to school has been out in the barn milking, too. They learn discipline through manual labor and working for their dads."
Veitenheimer ran track and played basketball in her high school that had an enrollment of just 115 students. She helped lead Windthorst High School to four straight Class A state championships, including a 28-7 record in her senior year.
"If you're a girl in Windthorst, you grow up idolizing the girls who are on varsity volleyball," said Veitenheimer. "I would say that probably 95 percent of the girls there go out for the volleyball team. You grow up playing volleyball in your backyard, and going to the camps out there."
With a little over 5,000 students, Harding University in Searcy, Ark. was a little bit of a change of pace for Veitenheimer.
"I was really excited that there was a Wal-Mart in Searcy when I first got there," said Veitenheimer. "Wichita Falls is the closest city to my house which is about 35 to 40 minute drive. There are no restaurants in Windthorst. We have a little gas station that has a grill in it."
In her freshman season on the Harding volleyball team, Veitenheimer saw action in 42 games as a reserve outside hitter and hammered 75 kills and hit 141. As she enteres her senior season with the Lady Bison, she realizes she has really felt at home at Harding despite the cultural differences.
"I came and visited and fell in love with the campus and the team," said Veitenheimer. "I clicked with the team right away when I visited. We don't have any cliques on our team, and I think that's because of the Christian environment and the type of girls our coach recruits. We're really close on and off the court."
Harding has won three straight Gulf South Conference championships, including a 12-0 mark in league play last year, and has been picked to win the GSC title once again in the preseason coaches' poll. The Lady Bison have also advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the last three seasons, but have failed to make it past the first round.
"That's been really frustrating," said Veitenheimer. "Coming from Windthorst, we won the state championship all four years I was there. I remember my freshman year when we lost in the first round (of the NCAA Tournament). I couldn't believe it. Most teams' season ends on a loss and that had never happened to me."
Veitenheimer, the team's only senior this year, is a 2005 Preseason All-GSC pick after setting a school record with 525 kills last season, and hopes for a different ending to Harding's season.
"That first round of the NCAA Tournament seems to be looming over our heads," said Veitenheimer. "One of my goals is to get past that point, and then go farther in the tournament."
Harding opens its 2005 season on Aug. 26-27 at the St. Mary's Tournament in San Antonio, Texas. The Lady Bisons' first home game is Sept. 1, against Southwest Baptist.