2008 Volleyball preview: Outside hitters
Aug. 21, 2008
There is always strength in numbers, and for the 2008 UT volleyball team, the team's strength and depth is indicated at all positions, including outside hitter. Texas enters 2008 with a talented group of outside hitters that is comprised of seasoned veterans and a highly-touted youngster. The Longhorns boast six players with the ability to play outside hitter -- five veterans and one freshman -- providing Texas with an arsenal of options on the outside.
The Longhorns' stable of outside hitters is arguably the most talented in the country, boasting a total of three All-America awards and the 2007 AVCA National Freshman of the Year. Sophomore Juliann Faucette and junior Destinee Hooker both spent the spring of 2008 training with the U.S. Women's National Team gaining invaluable experience that the collegiate offseason does not provide.
"With Juliann and Destinee we have one of the best one-two punches in the country at outside hitter," head coach Jerritt Elliott stated. "It's going to be fun to see what they learned from USA and how they grew."
Faucette ranked fourth in the Big 12 last season with 4.49 kills and 5.12 points per-game, while hitting at a .324 clip. The 6-2 hitter earned AVCA All-America first team honors for her efforts, while copping first-team All-Region and first-team All-Big 12 accolades.
"Juliann had a breakout season last year as the National Freshman of the Year and she's one of the few outside hitters in the country that can take over a match," Elliott said. "She is strong and in incredible shape right now after training with USA Volleyball throughout the spring. The biggest things that she brings back from playing with USA Volleyball are her understanding of the speed of the game at a higher level, as well as improving her ball control.
"She hasn't been playing for very long, so time and repetitions have been a benefactor for her to develop into a six-rotation player," Elliott added. "She did a really nice job for us last year, and we hope to utilize her more out of the back court this year in order to make her a more complete player. She's a very dynamic and explosive player who brings a lot of energy to the floor."
Hooker earned AVCA All-America Second Team honors in 2007 after earning honorable mention accolades in 2006. The two-time first-team All-Big 12 performer ranked second in the league last season in kills (4.52) and points per game (5.45), while posting a .339 attack mark and a team-best 31 solo blocks and 26 service aces.
"Destinee trained with Team USA in the spring as well and she has developed into one of the premier outside hitters in the country," Elliott said. "Destinee can really do some special stuff, and we'll look at her to expand on the role she played last year, depending on her growth from USA Volleyball."
Engle made a name for herself in 2006 and 2007 as the Horns' opposite hitter, earning numerous honors, including Big 12 Freshman of the Year in 2006. Last season, Engle hit .318 with 3.14 kills, 2.35 digs and 3.95 points per-game. She did so after missing seven matches early in the season due to a nagging foot injury.
"Ashley is a complete player who can do so many different things," Elliott noted. "As an attacker, she has great range and she is physically stronger and healthy this year, so this should be a solid year for her. Being left-handed, she gives us so many different options to attack our opponents and to utilize her potential."
Jennifer Doris gives Texas options with her ability to play on the right side as well as in the middle. Her 6-5 frame and long reach make her an excellent blocker, but she also managed to hit .240 with 38 kills in limited time last season.
"Jen played some on the right side in the spring, so that's one of the scenarios that we'll look at to see if she can play that position if we run a 6-2," Elliott said. "We've got some other players that are capable of playing the opposite position as well, but Doris gives us some very nice versatility. She's very low-error and has a high kill percentage and those are qualities that we consider when selecting our starting team."
Amber Roberson is one of the top freshman outside hitters in the country, coming to Texas after playing high school volleyball for four-time Texas All-American Demetria Sance-Padgitt. In 2007, Roberson garnered Texas Girls Coaches Association unanimous All-State honors after recording 554 kills and 322 digs.
"Amber Roberson is the surprise of the class as she has developed tremendously over the last three or four months," Elliott said. "She's gotten a lot more efficient and is a very physical, fluid athlete who will gain a lot of confidence over time. Amber is capable of stepping in and contributing immediately and it's going to be fun to see her learn our systems and how she gels with our team."
Although she has spent much of her career as a serving and defensive specialist, senior Kiley Hall adds depth on the outside for the Longhorns. Hall's offensive abilities were evident in the spring of 2008 when she teamed with Ashley Engle to win the Collegiate Beach Nationals tournament.
"Kiley had a great spring on the outside," Elliott noted. "She's not going to overpower you with physicality, but she's going to challenge all of your defensive sequencing. Kiley has great shot selection and last spring she showed that she can play on the outside at a really high level."