Volleyball coach, players set expectations high
Senior Brandy Magee still remembers how she felt in the aftermath of the Longhorns’ second-round NCAA Tournament loss to Hawaii last season.
“Heartbroken,” she said of the match that ended UT’s season. “We were close, but we didn’t make it.”
Magee, an All-American honoree, as well as an All-Big 12 performer, was not mournful as she spoke.
“That loss motivated me,” she began. “It motivated everyone to be better this year. That’s why we all worked so hard last spring and worked so hard this summer.”
And why the Mission Viejo, Calif., native and her teammates all are working hard as preparations begin for the 2006 volleyball season. The Horns begin in late August with a tournament at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
Looking toward the start of the season, Magee admits that it is hard for her to imagine that this is it for her career at Texas.
“It is hard to believe,” said Magee, who is one of four seniors on a team that wound up 24-5, placing second in the Big 12 in 2005. “It seems as though I was a freshman not too long ago. It means I will push that much harder for the team this year. I will leave everything on the court and do that much extra.”
Head coach Jerritt Elliott, who knows he always has gotten that kind of effort from Magee, had an excited tone in his voice as he talked about the 2006 edition of the Longhorns – his sixth team since coming to Austin from Southern Cal in 2001.
“I am really excited,” he said. “This has been a long time in building. We have strong players in each position and we have experience (eight seniors and juniors) on this team.”
He also has three newcomers who are part of the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class (behind Penn State), according to PrepVolleyball.com.
Ashley Engle, a 6-foot-3 setter and right-side hitter; Destinee Hooker, a 6-foot-3 outside hitter who already has established a name for herself at UT in track and field; and Heather Kisner, a 5-foot-9 defensive specialist, comprise this magnificent class.
Elliott got these kinds of players to commit -- Engle is the No. 3-rated recruit and Hooker is No. 8 nationally -- despite the fact that every starter returns this season.
“I’ve got high expectations for this year,” Elliott said. “We’ve got the talent to go very deep in the NCAAs.”
Or as the editors of Volleyball magazine note, “Texas is charging towards national title contender status.”
Which, as Elliott acknowledged, is what is expected of teams at The University of Texas.
“We are now in position where every top recruit in the country looks at Texas,” he continued. “That was what I wanted when I came here.”
Elliott, who has registered back-to-back seasons of 26 and 24 victories, says that top high school players coming to Texas, even with all of the starters returning, speaks to the competitive nature of the recruits.
And the attitude of Magee and other standouts on the team welcoming these highly touted new arrivals does same.
“By having more quality players pushes everyone to be the best,” she said. “Everyone works harder every day in practice and that only makes the team better as a whole.”
As a coach meshing the new with the old, Elliott is thrilled with that kind of a resolve from his senior leaders, which also includes Dariam Acevedo, Jenny Andrew and Jennifer Todd, as well as junior standouts Leticia Armstrong and captain Michelle Moriarty.
Elliott saw this attitude last spring.
“It went pretty well,” he said of the work by his team. “I thought all of the players progressed in the spring. I saw our younger players – Lauren Paolini (sophomore) and RuthAnn Feist (sophomore) – really step up. It was exciting to watch the growth of the team last spring. There was a maturity evident.
“Great teams are created on the every day consistency in the practice gym. When you’re Texas, you don’t get a night off. The players had the mentality of what has to go into being a National Champion.”
Ah, there are those words: National Champion.
“The physical ability is here (for a national title),” Magee said. “Now, it’s hard work and perseverance. It’s putting in the time. It’s why I came here when Jerritt recruited me.”
Elliott embraces those words – National Champion.
“That’s why I took this job,” he began. “I came here because of the expectations that you contend for a National Championship each year.”