The worst day in Steven McRoberts’ coaching career began with a phone call at 3:15 a.m.
Hours later, Ole Miss’ volleyball coach was breaking horrible news to his team. Ty Laporte, one of the most popular athletes on the Ole Miss campus, had died Thursday night in a car accident near Holly Springs, Miss.
“She had a big bright smile,” McRoberts said Sunday night in a quiet moment in his home. “She was loud. She was the center of attention.”
McRoberts didn’t recruit Laporte. By the time he arrived in Oxford from Tulsa, Laporte had reshirted a season due to a knee injury and played two seasons.
“When we got here, we saw right away that she had a personality that wanted to command the room,” McRoberts said. “We had our moments where we butted heads but it brought us closer together.
“She would challenge me. I would challenge her. Players like that make you grow as a coach.”
On the court, Laporte finished her Ole Miss career ranked third all-time in block assists with 280 and third all-time in total blocks with 334. She also ranks fifth all-time in kills with 999.
“It was really fun to see her grow on the court and off the court,” McRoberts said. “It was a lot of fun.”
During her last two years under McRoberts, Laporte helped lead the Rebels to consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time in nearly three decades, and, in 2015, the best start in school history and the most home wins, 13.
As a senior, Laporte was named AVCA Honorable Mention All-Region and ranked among the top 10 in the SEC in hitting percentage. Laporte also was a member of the Ole Miss track & field team, competing in the high jump. She ranks ninth in school history in the outdoor high jump with a college-best clearance of 5 feet, 7.75 inches in 2014.
Laporte was nearly 5-foot-11. She typically was squared up against Southeastern Conference players who ranged from 6-2 to 6-5.
“Her competitiveness and her drive was such that when she looked across the net, she didn’t care who was on the other side,” McRoberts said. “She wanted to prove to them that she belonged on the court. A lot of that was proving to herself, too. She had a great senior year. She was looking recently at some options in maybe playing overseas.”
Laporte’s legacy at Ole Miss was defined more, McRoberts said, by who she was off the court than the player she was on it.
On Friday morning, the team sat around in the locker room reflecting on their friend.
“Most of the time we were laughing,” McRoberts said. “She just lit up the room. She just had funny things about her all the time.”
After one game, Ole Miss volleyball t-shirts were passed out to fans as a promotion. Laporte had noticed an older gentleman who frequented the Rebels’ games.
“She said, ‘I want to make sure that guy gets a t-shirt,’” McRoberts said. “She pointed at a man in the stands. He was an elderly, shy man who came to a lot of the game and just watched the games. She said, ‘I want to make sure he gets a t-shirt for always coming.’ She walked up and handed it to the guy and he was smiling from ear to ear.
“If kids were around, she was always with the kids. If my kids walked in the gym, especially Nate, my two-year-old, she was always messing with him. She was really good at camp with the kids.”
McRoberts’ phone has rung around the clock with fans telling him their memories of Laporte. One lady told him about her daughter, an Ole Miss volleyball fan who was battling cancer. Laporte sent the girl one of her volleyball jerseys with all of the other players’ autographs.
“That’s her,” McRoberts said, his voice cracking with emotion. “She wanted others to see her competitiveness, her fire, her being loud but, behind the scenes, she was really this sweet young lady who looked out for others.
“She was complicated but she loved us and we loved her.”
This article appeared on olemiss.n.rivals.com.