2007 Volleyball: Back to basics
On Wednesday morning, the Texas Longhorns volleyball team not only commenced two-a-day practices, but also began its quest toward reaching the NCAA finals in Sacramento, Calif.
A balmy August day outside, the Longhorns turned up the heat and the intensity indoors on their first day of fall practice. The workout was the first for Texas' talented freshman class and marked the return of 2005 AVCA All-American Brandy Magee.
This year's squad of 15 hit the court for the first time this year in high spirits, as the long wait for the 2007 season was finally over. The players were buzzing with enthusiasm, cheering on their teammates with energy normally reserved for mid-to-late season and a postseason push.
Although the team was ready to dive right back in to the swing of things, it had to work on fundamentals first. The first day of practice was drill-driven, as head coach Jerritt Elliott put the team through a high-repetition workout that focused on passing and blocking. When the Longhorns return to the floor for their afternoon workout they will work on more team-oriented drills and work a lot more above the net.
"We had great energy in practice today and everyone was excited to be back in the gym," said Elliott. "I saw bright spots in every facet of our game and I even saw some glimpses of where the talent we have can put us at season's end."
After Texas' 2006 season that saw the Horns make their first NCAA Regional finals appearance since 1998 and the first of Elliott's six-year tenure at UT. The Longhorns wrapped up the season with a 24-7 mark and a No. 7 ranking in the final poll. In addition to returning four All-Americans, UT adds the nation's second-ranked recruiting class.
Texas' talented list of returners begins with the trio of Ashley Engle, Destinee Hooker and Michelle Moriarty, all of whom garnered All-America honors last season and have been named to the 2007 Preseason All-Big 12 team. Additionally the Horns welcome back Magee who missed most of the 2006 season with a knee injury after earning All-America honors in 2005. The Longhorns also return three-year starter Alyson Jennings at libero, talented defensive specialist Heather Kisner and 6-5 utility player Lauren Paolini.
"In the first workout you could really tell how hard our veterans worked in the offseason," said Elliott. "They are much stronger and more physical than they were a year ago."
The Longhorns second-ranked recruiting class is headlined by No. 2 national recruit and Preseason Big 12 Freshman of the Year Juliann Faucette and No. 3 national recruit Jennifer Doris. High school All-American Elizabeth Graham adds depth in the Texas middle, while defensive specialists Chelsey Klein and Alexandra Lewis sure up the Horns' back row.
"Today the freshmen already showed that they have the ability to contribute on this team right away," noted Elliott. "They blended in really well with the veterans and they were able to match them with their physicality."
The hard work that the team put in during the off-season and the work it will be doing during the dog days of summer will undoubtedly pay off as the team makes it way in the regular season and keeps "The Eyes of Texas" focused on a return to the NCAA finals in December.
NOTE: The CSTV/AVCA Preseason Poll will be released on Tuesday, Aug 14.