Physical first practice typifies Volleyball standard
Aug. 9, 2011
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
AUSTIN, Texas - Erik Sullivan's volleyball pedigree is as impressive as they come.
The two-time U.S. Olympian - he started at libero at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games and served as co-captain in 2000 - is now in his first year as an assistant coach at The University of Texas, and at the Longhorns' season-opening practice on Tuesday afternoon, Sullivan was looking forward to a little court time and mixing it up with the team.
Turns out, Sullivan wasn't needed.
"I'm probably the seventh or eighth best player in this gym," Sullivan observed.
Welcome to Texas Volleyball, version 2011.
Following last year's epic march to the national semifinals - the program's third trip in as many years - the Longhorns added the country's top-rated recruiting class to a team anchored by four seasoned seniors.
"It's just trees everywhere," said senior middle blocker Rachael Adams, a Big 12 and national player of the year contender. "I'm glad these girls are on my team and not the other side."
Hutson enrolled last spring and both Bell and Eckerman arrived in early summer, so the entire team has been on campus together for conditioning and workouts. They bonded over early-morning runs and sprints up and down the football stadium ramps.
Those training sessions helped to establish their work ethic, and by the time the Longhorns officially took the court on Tuesday, they already felt like a team.
"It feels like we're just continuing," Adams said. "We don't have to go over the basics. We didn't really skip a beat."
Even though the camaraderie is apparent in UT's gym, so is the competition. A roster of 13 and multi-dimensional depth give head coach Jerritt Elliott myriad options when piecing together his lineup.
And that reality isn't lost on any of the players.
"The girls are all great. It's work, because everyone wants to play, everyone wants to start," Bell said. "It's intense."
Elliott called the first-day atmosphere one of the most physical he's been a part of during his 11 seasons at UT.
"They got after it today. It was really fun," Elliott said. "We just have some really fun athletes. We obviously have a long way to go in terms of being a good volleyball team, but we have the pieces and the potential."