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Without captains or a locker room, Texas searches for new forms of leadership

Texas coach Vic Schaefer speaks with guards Kyra Lambert (15) and Joanne Allen-Taylor (11) during a game against Louisiana Tech at the Erwin Center on Dec. 2 in Austin.

Within the athletic department at Texas, there are no universal guidelines for selecting a team captain.

The football program, for example, voted in seven captains this fall. Meanwhile, the volleyball team had two. Don't expect any of UT's baseball players to double as captains this spring; only once in David Pierce's four seasons have captains been named and that was done to give the Longhorns a boost during a disappointing 2019 campaign.

The women's basketball team at Texas also doesn't have a captain this season. It's not that Vic Schaefer doesn't believe in the concept, though. 

Schaefer said it "really takes somebody unique and special (to be a captain). I don't just pass that around because you're a senior." So far, he hasn't found what he's looking for in Austin. He's still getting to know his players after an eight-year run at Mississippi State. Likewise, his players are still getting to know him.

"Leadership, we've done this a long time and we've become the captains, the coaches do," Schaefer said. "If we don't feel like we have that person that can walk it and talk it and live it every day in every way, then it's ok. It doesn't make anybody a bad person or you're not good, it just means we'll be the leaders as the coaches."

With Tennessee in town this Sunday, Texas is 4-1 and ranked 23rd in the Associated Press' poll. UT's margin of victory this season has been 32 points. Its lone loss came last weekend against a ranked rival in Texas A&M.

Texas has not been perfect. Schaefer has criticized his team's effort after several games. Against Idaho on Wednesday, Schaefer also benched a starter for being late to a morning shootaround and later wondered aloud why none of her teammates had checked to make sure that she was awake and ready.

If Texas had a captain, perhaps those problems wouldn't be problems. Building leadership skills, though, has been easier said than done in 2020.

First off, Texas does not have a senior on its team and graduate transfer Kyra Lambert is among the seven newcomers on the 12-player roster. The coronavirus pandemic has also shifted the dynamic among the Longhorns.

Aside from basketball activities, UT's players have not been able to bond like they normally would. Out of an abundance of caution, Schaefer also has closed the UT locker room this season. So ahead of practices at the Cooley Pavilion, the Longhorns change in the bathroom and have chairs set up alongside the gym's wall.

"When you don't have a locker room, it's hard to have that comradery after a tough practice or a game," Schaefer said. "It's hard to develop that chemistry. Those situations provide you opportunity for leadership."

Even though she is new to the program, Lambert has previously shown an ability to lead. In fact, she was a three-year captain at Duke.

Lambert made her first start at Texas on Wednesday. A 5-foot-9 point guard, Lambert knocked down three 3-pointers in the 73-48 win over Idaho. Two days later, Lambert told reporters that she had recently talked with Schaefer about stepping up as a leader.

"As a point guard, naturally yes, I've been a leader and I'm continuing to try and grow in that role," Lambert said. "The fact of the matter is we have leaders all over the court. We just all lead in different ways."

Even though Schaefer has appointed himself as a captain, the players also know they have a responsibility to bear. Charli Collier, who is one of UT's four juniors, has said it's important for the Longhorns to communicate when their coaches aren't around.

"We feel like we can come together and talk as a team," Collier said. "I feel like as a team together, we try to be as good as we can in that area when things fall apart like that."