The Texas volleyball team, the newly-christened 11th-ranked team in the country, arrived back in Austin on Monday evening, August 8, to begin preparation for the 2005 season. With a week of preseason practice under its belt, the Longhorns have already shown progress and are excited to get underway.
On Monday evening, 12 of the 13 members of the team gathered at fifth-year head coach Jerritt Elliott's Austin home for a cookout to celebrate the start of the season before the Longhorns officially opened preseason practice on Tuesday.
Three days of twice-daily practices have already given the shown the coaching staff enough to get anxious to get the season started.
"Overall, we're excited about what we've seen from the team," Elliott said as the first week of practice neared a close. "There is a lot of maturity on this team even though we're comparatively young. We're having a lot of fun with the group of freshman we've brought in. They have added a lot of athleticism to the team.
"This is a team that has a lot of room for improvement as the year progresses. We're not as polished as we were a year ago at this time, but our potential is much greater. The upperclassmen have done a great job of integrating the freshmen and holding them to a higher standard of performance. Overall, this is a very solid group of student-athletes," Elliott added.
Before the Horns could even take the court on Tuesday, however, there were some other tasks that had to be completed.
First up were physicals with the team doctors. Only the new players had to make the trip to the training room for their appointments, allowing the veterans to gain a bit more sleep.
After the physicals were completed, the whole team gathered and the coaches and managers issued the team's Nike equipment for the year. The players were loaded up with Dri-Fits, uniforms, training shoes, running shoes, socks, spandex, warm-ups, sweats and luggage, but then they had to go earn their take.
The Horns headed to the Moncreif weight room to meet assistant strength and conditioning coach Donnie Maib for a series of baseline fitness tests, including the timed mile run.
With no rest for the weary, the team hustled to change into their uniforms for official team pictures and headshots. The Horns did get a slight rest, however, as they had to wait for junior Jennifer Todd (Henderson, Nev.) to arrive at Gregory Gym from the airport.
With a scrimmage against UT-San Antonio on August 26 added to the schedule just days before camp opened, the Longhorns hustled to push up their travel plans back to campus by a few days. Everyone was successful except Todd, who missed out on the barbeque at the Elliott household and Tuesday's morning festivities, but she arrived in Austin just in time to join the team for the team's pictures on Tuesday afternoon.
After the last flash went off, Elliott gathered the team in the locker room and held the first team meeting of the season before releasing the team to the main gym for the first practice of the season.
Since Tuesday, the team has held two-a-day training sessions all but Thursday, while also fulfilling academic obligations with Associate Athletic Director Randa Ryan and her staff, as well as moving to the dorms.
So far, the first week of practice has seen the Longhorns focus on defensive fundamentals, including defensive movements, blocking and the beginnings of overall defensive schemes and transitions. Offensive work will come a bit later.
"So far we've started the team working on defense and blocking, both individually and as a team. We've introduced some new blocking schemes and we're just starting to work transitions. We'll introduce new offensive elements soon," Elliott said. "We have a lot of defensive speed and I love the movement the team has. We're very athletic."
With six workouts already completed at the end of the day Friday, the foursome of freshmen has already stood out and the coaches have taken notice.
"Lauren Paolini has come in and performed really well and RuthAnn Feist is really working hard on the court," Elliott said. "Kristin (Durant) has also come in with a tremendous work ethic and has brought the right kind of mentality to the team.
"We're practicing approximately seven-and-a-half hour each day, and our players are responding to that challenge. Already this has been an exciting preseason."