Horton partnered for the second-straight year with senior Jessica Wooten as the Huskies’ No. 1 duo. They compiled an 18-8 record competing in the top spot and are planning on playing in some tournaments this summer, so they don’t lose what they’ve built when Wooten returns to indoor in the fall.
“We’ve grown a lot, our dialogue has gotten more mature as we grown,” Horton said. “We’ve grown as a unit and as teammates quite a bit in one year and I’m excited to see next year’s development. We’ve talked about it and our strategy is developing as we get older, so I think the future is promising.”
Two years ago, being on the top tandem of an up-and-coming beach volleyball program might have been the furthest thing from Horton’s mind. She was committed to play indoor as a libero for UT Rio Grande Valley, but a coaching change threw her future up in the air.
“I really didn’t play much beach before I came to HBU,” Horton said. “When things fell through, Associate Head Coach Cameron Sitler gave me a call and said he had a beach position. Since I was still wondering where I am going to go to school, I agreed to do it. I’m excited to see where I develop as a player and I loved re-learning the sport. This year, I learned a lot more and I think the next few years I’ll have really good insight into the game.”
“She’s a great ball-control player to begin with,” Sitler said. “She played on this undersized team – there was three of them – they had a big middle, a setter and her and they would win all the time. They didn’t look like they belonged, but they would win. She’s got the instinct for winning and she’s got the ball control.
“I knew she was going to be great at whatever sport she played. She was a phenomenal soccer player, too – the kid has found ways to excel at every sport she’s played and her skill set allowed her to be a quick transition into an elite beach player.”
Sitler has also taken notice of how Horton balances her personal life with her sport.
“Coming from a big family puts a different strain than maybe another kid would have coming into college, so her finding ways to get things done on the court and in the classroom, also finding ways to work a job here or there, is the most impressive part,” Sitler said. “At no point does she ever complain about it. She wants to win at everything she does, the work she puts in away from the game and with her family.
“Her family is really invested in her, too. I can’t tell you how many times she had no idea they were coming and here comes the support system – all seven of them, plus her parents – sitting there watching her play. She lights up, because she didn’t expect it, and she values it.”
The classic 1980s sitcom Eight is Enough had nothing on Aeriel Horton, a sophomore on HBU beach volleyball team, and her family. Horton is the second-oldest of the eight children by her parents, Darrell and Amanda.
She has four sisters – Chasity (22), Lael (10), Kyleigh (9) and Adelaide (1) – and three brothers – Thaddeus (14), Xavier (12) and Ezekiel (3). During her freshman year, Horton would often travel back home to Waxahachie to see her family and help out, but has tried to cut back as her school commitments have grown.
“When I grew up and was in high school, I would babysit them, jump on the trampoline with them and they would think that was the greatest thing ever,” Horton said. “They’re getting older now, it’s kind of sad that I’m in college and my younger siblings don’t really understand where I am. They Facetime me everyday, which is cool, and they come to my tournaments as often as they can. I miss them and can’t wait to see them in the summer.”
Horton says her parents handle the family really well. They were strict for the most part, which they had to be with eight children, but she says they were also lenient on some things.
“They put up with a lot of screaming and fighting, obviously, but there are some good times that come with that,” Horton said. “Dinner time is awesome, as we’re all sitting around the table, and they’ll make us all laugh. They’re very strong and can put up with a lot – they put up with me, so that says a lot.”
Over the past year, Horton has seen her close-knit clan grow even closer as her youngest sister, Adelaide, was born prematurely and spent two months in the NICU.
“When Adelaide was born, she was four pounds,” Horton said. “At that moment, our family came together and prayed and had hope that she made it. Now she’s a happy baby. We believe in miracles and it’s just awesome. We definitely grew as a family when that happened.”
The more joyful times Horton has with her family centers around the dinner table, where it is never quiet.
“Whenever someone does speak up, it’s usually funny, because my dad has a very big sense of humor and I guess we all got it, too,” Horton said. “Lael is 10 years-old and has cerebral palsy, so she is a little slower, but man, I tell you she is funny. She is the light of our family. When we’re feeling down, Lael will have something to say to bring us right back up.”
Horton’s ability to adapt has been a key to her success over the last two years and feels like HBU is where she was meant to be.
“I definitely think coming to HBU worked out for me,” Horton said. “I had doubts at first, but everyone does. The longer I’m here, the more I realize this was God’s plan for me. This was the right plan.”