Sarah (Silvernail) Elliott enjoyed her first trip back to Pullman, visiting old teammates and taking in the Washington State-Oregon football game, since being inducted into WSU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2002.
“I had a blast,” said Elliott, who spoke to the Cougars volleyball team before it traveled to Friday’s match against Washington.
She had a lot of catching up to do. It’s been an eventful time for Elliott, regarded as the best volleyball player in WSU history. Since her last visit to Pullman, she married Jerritt Elliott, who is in his 10th season as head volleyball coach at the University of Texas. They have two boys, 5-year-old Parker and 4-year-old Mack, to keep Sarah’s 12-year-old daughter, Kahle, company.
Sarah stopped playing professionally several years ago after stints with the U.S. national team, a pro team based in Chicago and a couple of stops overseas. It was in Switzerland where her path was re-routed to Austin, Texas. She had known of Jerritt since his days as a USC graduate assistant coach. USC was one of numerous Pac-10 schools Silvernail turned down to play for coach Cindy Fredrick at WSU.
While Sarah was playing professionally, Jerritt was moving up, eventually becoming USC’s interim head coach and guiding the Trojans to an NCAA semifinals appearance. He took over at Texas in 2001 and has built the program into a national power. The Longhorns lost to Penn State in a thrilling five-set national championship match last season.
They dated for a few years before Jerritt drew a line in the sand.
“Playing was my way of being a single mom and making good money for Kahle and also not having to work long hours. I could never turn her over and have someone else raise her,” Elliott said. “One trip in Japan I was away from her for 17 days and I had a full anxiety attack on the plane. We were in Switzerland and he actually finally gave me an ultimatum: ‘It’s time for you guys to come home.’ ”
Sarah took him up on the offer and it’s proven to be a wise decision. Roughly 10 years prior, she made what she counts as another wise move, choosing to play for WSU.
“Communications was my major and I wanted to go to a small town rather than a big town because small towns really embrace their female athletes as well as their male athletes,” she said.
At WSU, the 6-foot-2 Silvernail became the school’s all-time kills leader with 1,848, the 1996 Pac-10 player of the year and a two-time All-American. The ’96 team went 27-6 and lost to Stanford in the Elite Eight.
“Cindy and (her husband Mashallah Farokhmanesh) ‘Farok’ were really amazing coaches, and I’ve had amazing coaches from all over the country,” she said. “The thing they got was not only did you have to have a good team, but you have to get out in the community. They had us in the Lentil Parade, meeting little kids at The Bookie (bookstore). It was kind of the heyday for WSU volleyball but that goes in waves and I’m hoping it returns because it’s the toughest place (for opponents) to play in the country.
“My husband is still horrified of playing in Pullman.”
Sarah and Jerritt married in 2004 and she’s kept a hand in volleyball since. Early on, she was a volunteer assistant for the Longhorns, but now she mostly watches tape and offers suggestions.
“He always asks, ‘What would Cindy and Farok do here?’ ” she said. “He definitely has great respect for the game.”
The Elliotts started a non-profit volleyball organization and 4-on-4 grass leagues to help teach youngsters the sport. She also had a brief stint as a high school athletic director.
Jerritt serves as club coach for Kahle, who is already 6-feet tall. Sarah and Kahle work together better in one-on-one settings. Jerritt has been attempting to get boys volleyball started in Austin “even before I was pregnant with the boys,” Sarah said.
The two share another passion: Fixing up and re-selling homes. It started when Sarah moved to Austin and discovered Jerritt’s house was built roughly in 1950 and needed some attention.
“My 4-year-old has lived in four homes, all in the same school district because we love our district,” Elliott said.
Sarah negotiates home prices with real estate agents and fix-up costs with contractors. They’ve “flipped” six homes, along the way figuring out how to make it a profitable venture. They continue to keep an eye on potential homes even though Jerritt is one of the sport’s highest paid coaches.
“It’s his escape from volleyball. He has a very fast brain. He finds a house, he takes off for three weeks and I buy the house and move in, so all of it basically gets dumped on me,” she cracked. “People know that if they like the Elliotts’ house, you can make an offer and we’ll probably sell it.”
Not long ago, Jerritt phoned home.
“It was after a loss, he needed something to take his mind of the loss,” Sarah said. “I said, ‘You are in season, we can’t talk about moving right now.’ But we have our eye on a little house.”
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