Volleyball opens new season with poise
Aug. 28, 2010
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
AUSTIN, Texas -- Reminders from Volleyball’s stirring 2009 campaign were apparent throughout Gregory Gym on Friday. The banners hanging overhead were the giveaways, commemorating UT’s outright Big 12 Championship and run to the national title match.
Even the opponent offered an emotional tie. The Longhorns opened the 2010 season just as they closed out last year on their home court -- with a win against TCU. UT has now posted 72 victories to just seven losses against in-state opponents under head coach Jerritt Elliott.
Freshman setter Hannah Allison catches on pretty quickly. “It is our goal to be No. 1 in Texas,” she said.
This marked only the second meeting between UT and TCU, the first coming last year in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The stakes, obviously, weren’t as high this time for the Longhorns, but for a program riding a 21-match home winning streak and ranked No. 3 in the nation, nothing comes with ease.
“We had great balance, and the things that we have been working on have carried over to the first match, Elliott said. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome, but more importantly, the way that we played and how united we were.”
UT, now 8-2 in season openers under Elliott, will use this part of the season to learn about its own team dynamic. The anchoring force of Ashley Engle, the dynamic athleticism of Destinee Hooker and the defensive grace of Heather Kisner are all gone, but the spirit remains. That trio helped cement a legacy of excellence for Texas Volleyball.
Defense helped carry on the tradition against TCU. The Longhorns silenced the Horned Frogs in the 25-18, 25-12, 25-12 sweep, and everyone had took a turn. Sha’Dare McNeal connected for 10 kills on .562 hitting. Junior outside hitter Amber Roberson added her first career double-double with 11 kills and 13 digs, while senior All-America outside hitter Juliann Faucette hammered out 10 kills and recorded a career-high seven service aces.
“I think we have a lot of experience with the juniors, seniors and sophomores that have been through it, so we help each other out,” Faucette said.
This marks just the second time in the Elliott era, and first since 2002, that the Longhorns have opened the season in their own gym. For the past two years, the Longhorns have traveled the nation, aiming to prove they were among the best. In 2009, UT opened on the west coast with five matches against five ranked opponents. In 2008, the Longhorns took on No. 4 Southern California and No. 2 Stanford in their opening weekend.
Now, UT is one of just three programs nationally to have advanced to the NCAA Regional finals in each of the last four seasons. The Longhorns are fixed among the nation’s elite, and so they can start this season by putting more focus on themselves, their composure and ability to deal with the pressures other teams will throw their way.
“It will be fun to see how we react and get exposed to some of our weaknesses, so that we can continue to grow,” Elliott said.