Volleyball demonstrates resiliency, handling tough loss and devastating injury
Volleyball coach Jerritt Elliott knew he would have a challenge this year, blending a talented team with almost everybody returning and a recruiting class that was ranked No. 2 in the country.
What Elliott couldn’t foresee was losing senior Brandy Magee, Texas’ all-time career leader in attack percentage (.363) who had started all but one of the matches she has played in during her Longhorns career.
The All-America from Mission Viejo, Calif., suffered a torn ACL in the season-opening victory against Wisconsin and is out for the season.
“We’ll miss her on the court,” Elliott said after learning that Magee was through for the year. “But she will be at the practices and in the locker room. Her leadership still will be present.”
And that steadying influence was needed in the aftermath of the most disappointing loss of the young season when the Longhorns were beaten by second-ranked Penn State in Gregory Gym despite taking a 2-0 lead in the match.
“We played well in the first two games and I felt we were steady for long periods of time,” Elliott began, recapping the early September contest against the Nittany Lions.
“But,” he continued. “We just weren’t able to execute down the stretch against a very good team.”
Elliott learned a great deal about his team’s resiliency when they ripped Texas Tech, 3-0, in the next encounter five days after the loss to Penn State.
A standout in the triumph against Tech and a strong performer thus far this year was Destinee Hooker, one of the prime members of the recruiting class for the 2006 season.
While perhaps inexperienced in volleyball, Hooker’s athletic skills allow her to make up for technical areas as she learns and refines her game.
“She has gotten better every game,” Elliott said of the San Antonio Southwest High School star. “Destinee has a ton of athletic ability and a great upside in volleyball.”
Hooker had 10 kills in the Longhorns' second Big 12 conference game at Kansas where they routed the Jayhawks, 3-0.
UT also got strong performances from sophomore Lauren Paolini (13 kills), Ashley Engle, another member of the grand recruiting class, and senior Dariam Acevedo. Both Engle and Acevedo registered 11 kills.
For Acevedo, that marked the ninth consecutive game where she recorded 10 or more kills.
Junior Michelle Moriarty, an honorable mention All-America and All-Big 12 performer in 2005, handed out 43 assists in the victory in Lawrence.
“I’m very excited about the team this year,” said Moriarty. “We were bummed about losing two matches (UT dropped its fourth game of the year to Cal Poly), but we knew we were capable of being undefeated rather than having two losses (in the season’s first nine games).
“We know if we keep working hard that we can be No. 1. This team really is still coming together.”
Moriarty, who was a Fab 50 recruit out of Houston Stratford High School, said the blending of the new players and the returning players has gone well.
“The freshman have helped us,” she said. “They have played well and they have pushed the rest of us to play better. They have helped us in so many ways.”
Elliott sounded confident as the Longhorns continue through the Big 12 schedule in October, looking towards a berth in the NCAA Championships in December in Omaha, Neb.
Texas hosts a Regional Tournament Dec. 8-9 in Gregory Gym.
“We had a hiccup against Cal Poly and a tough loss to Penn State,” Elliott said. “But we began the year by defeating the third, fourth, ninth and 18th-ranked teams in the country and played our first five matches of the year on the road, winning four of them. I think we’re blending well. This is a very close group.”
Elliott says roles continue to be defined as the season moves along.
“We’re a deep team,” he said. “We can play 13 or 14 people in a match and not just six. That will help as the season continues.”