The ball is different, and so are the court dimensions, the uniforms and the equipment.
But when she practices with the Odessa College volleyball team, there's a part of Lauren Cotton-Berry that thinks she's playing basketball instead.
"I'll still take the volleyball and try to shoot it in the basket," Cotton-Berry said with a sheepish grin. "I always dribble the volleyball in between my legs and stuff."
Those habits might be hard to break this fall, but Cotton-Berry is doing her best to get into volleyball mode. She came to Odessa College on a basketball scholarship, and led the team in rebounding as a freshman last year, and this year she's playing volleyball, too.
The 5-foot-11 Cotton-Berry, who was a standout middle blocker for her high school team in Illinois, will play outside hitter for Odessa College. The Lady Wranglers start their second season today at a tournament hosted by New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, and they're hoping Cotton-Berry can provide a spark with her athleticism, leadership qualities and can-do attitude.
"I think she's going to be really good for our team," said sophomore setter Carli Jo Brill, a returnee from last year's inaugural squad. "She's an awesome person."
Before deciding to play basketball at Odessa College, Cotton-Berry said she received offers to play volleyball from at least five schools. And according to Odessa College volleyball coach Alana Rowland, Cotton-Berry expressed interest in joining the team before she arrived in West Texas.
But Cotton-Berry didn't have any game film to send and didn't follow up with Rowland, who didn't see Cotton-Berry on the volleyball court until this spring. Cotton-Berry became friends with some of the volleyball players and with team manager Marc Enriquez, who invited her to play in some pickup games, and then Enriquez told Rowland about Cotton-Berry's ability and her desire to play for the Lady Wranglers.
After talking to Rowland and women's basketball coach Ara Baten, who gave his blessing, Cotton-Berry decided in mid-June that she would play both sports.
"Whenever she wanted to pursue it, a lot of other people told her she can't or she couldn't do it," said Rowland, who played volleyball and softball at Dodge City Community College in Kansas. "And I'm like, ‘I'm not the right person to talk to. It's not easy, you don't have much of a social life, but you've been an athlete your whole life, so why change now? You can only be a competitive athlete for so long. If you're able to and you have coaches that are supportive of the idea, get after it.' "
Cotton-Berry said she's worried about overexerting herself during the course of the school year, but Baten and Rowland both said she can handle the increased work load because she's a good student and has good time management skills. Baten also said the same tenacity and determination that makes Cotton-Berry the best rebounder and defender on the basketball team should benefit the volleyball team.
Cotton-Berry and freshman middle blocker Jana Baudenhausen were the first Lady Wranglers on the court Wednesday, working on their hitting before practice even started, and Rowland said she's often had to order Cotton-Berry to go home and rest because she spends so much time at the gym after practice.
"I'm really impressed with her," sophomore outside hitter Laura Reigh said. "She swings really hard and she plays really hard. I've seen her play basketball, and she plays hard all the time. She goes hard and she works hard."
Cotton-Berry also hits the ball really hard, which was the greatest attraction to Rowland. But the timing of her swings is still a little off after spending a year away from the sport, and Rowland said Cotton-Berry has work to do as a blocker and back-row player.
Rowland said Cotton-Berry also seems a little hesitant and unsure of herself on the volleyball court, but she's gradually working through those things. During Tuesday's practice, for instance, Rowland strapped an elastic "leash" around Cotton-Berry's waist so she wouldn't go for the ball too early while trying to attack.
Cotton-Berry said she understands it will take time to get the hang of things again, so she isn't setting her goals too high. She just wants to get better every day and contribute to the team in any way she can.
Before Cotton-Berry heads back to the basketball court, Rowland expects those contributions to be significant.
"When she waits, when she's on time and she reaches for the top of the ball, it's hard and it's heavy and it's fast," Rowland said. "It's just a matter of getting that consistency going, because it's kind of sporadic. Sometimes it's lights out, like, ‘Wow,' and then other times it's off the back of the wall.
"I think once she gets backs in shape, she'll be an exciting player to watch."