No. 4 Volleyball chasing high expectations
Aug. 25, 2011
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
AUSTIN, Texas -- Collectively, Texas Volleyball is a team tired of knocking on the door. So head coach Jerritt Elliott has assembled a roster that’s capable of pounding it down and storming right through it.
The nation’s No. 1 recruiting class joins a squadron that returns 58 percent of its kills and 59 percent of its points from a year ago, when the Longhorns advanced to their third-straight NCAA Semifinal. Fourth-ranked UT kicks off the 2011 season against Pepperdine at 8 p.m. on Friday inside Gregory Gym, the first UT Athletics event to be televised live on Longhorn Network.
“We have high expectations and obviously the final four is in San Antonio this year,” Elliott said. “We have a team that potentially has the talent. It’s also the deepest team we’ve had. Literally every player on our roster is good enough to step in and play and start, so that’s a big benefit for us.”
Elliott’s cast of physical poise has become a premiere women’s athletics program, not just on The University of Texas campus, but nationally. Entering this season, the Longhorns have appeared in the Top 10 of the AVCA poll for 71 of the last 75 weeks. UT has been ranked in the AVCA Top 25 for 110 consecutive weeks, dating back to 2004.
The Longhorns join Penn State, which has won an unprecedented four straight NCAA titles, as the only two schools that have advanced to the NCAA Regional finals in each of the last five NCAA Championships. UT and Penn State are also the only two schools to qualify for the last three NCAA Semifinals.
“Obviously, there are already big shoes to fill,” freshman Madelyn Hutson said. “We’re just trying to keep our eye on the prize.”
UT is picked to finish first in the Big 12 Conference, but the Longhorns should know about their character and team personality long before league play kicks off against Kansas in late September. Bouts against No. 9 Florida, No. 12 Minnesota and either No. 1 Penn State or No. 6 Stanford, loom in the next two weeks.
“We have four seniors who have been to three final fours. I know we have the experience to show the team the way. We’ve been there and we’re ready to go back,” said senior middle blocker Rachael Adams, who led the nation with her .443 hitting percentage in 2010. “We want to come out ready to play without fear.”
Last season was a lesson for the Longhorns in competitiveness and resolve. In total, five of UT’s 15 players succumbed to major injuries during the course of the season, and at one point the Longhorns were reduced to just nine healthy players.
“We’re a team of fighters, and that is the ‘Texas toughness’ we’ve been trained to have,” senior Sydney Yogi said. “Our work ethic is just amazing, and it shows every single day in the gym and the weight room.”
It’s time to once again take that tenacity to the court. Elliott keeps telling them, “stay in that (final four) neighborhood and eventually you will get a national championship.”
And the Longhorns know a little bit about knocking on the door.
“This year, we have so much confidence in each other, and we are so excited to get this started and compete with each other,” setter Hannah Allison said. “Our competitiveness is what makes it so much fun.”