The Texas volleyball team will begin the 2005 season right where it ended the 2004 campaign: ranked 11th in the country. With such a strong reputation heading into the season, fifth-year head coach Jerritt Elliott and his Longhorns will look to improve on last year's standings and set themselves up for another postseason push this year.
After an NCAA "Sweet 16" appearance last year - the team's first since 1998 - the Longhorns have reclaimed their place in college volleyball's elite. The Horns fell in a close three-game match to eventual national champion Stanford in the regional semifinal, and with all but two starters returning, Texas is aiming for bigger and better things in 2005.
And when Texas refers to things as bigger, the team means it. Following the common saying, "Everything's bigger in Texas," the 2005 edition of the Longhorns ranks as the nation's second-tallest team. The 12-player roster averages a height of 6-1. When including only the players who play at the net, UT is an astonishing 6-2 inches tall! Not even a handful of teams can match Texas' size this season.
In 2004 as a freshman, Michelle Moriarty stepped in, earned the starting setter job and led Texas to a record year offensively. Not only did the team set a program record for attack efficiency (.305), but senior All-Americans Mira Topic and Bethany Howden also broke many individual records, as well.
This season, Moriarty is back to lead the Horns, and while she is without the services of the departed All-Americans, she has an exciting, younger group of hitters around her. The 2005 Longhorns have only one senior on the roster and no players with more than two years of collegiate playing experience. Yet, Elliott and his staff are excited to get the season started because of the potential of the team.
Moriarty and junior middle blocker Brandy Magee both earned All-Big 12 honorable mention honors last season and the two players will be centerpieces to Texas' offense in 2005. Already in the early season, both Moriarty and Magee were tabbed as Preseason All-Big 12 honorees. Magee enters her junior year as the running career leader in hitting percentage and has steadily made a name for herself nationally.
Also returning is a pair of starting outside hitters in junior Dariam Acevedo - the 2004 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year - and sophomore Jen Christian, who will look to expand their rolls on the court in the absence of Topic and Howden this season. Patrolling the back row and providing the team's defensive spark is sophomore libero Alyson Jennings for the second year in a row, nicknamed the team's "Lady in Black" for her all-black uniform on the court. Last year as a freshman, Jennings was among the conference leaders defensively and wowed crowds with her moves on the court.
While the Horns have four starters coming back, a crop of five newcomers will challenge for playing time right away. Junior middle blocker Jennifer Todd came to Texas this summer from traditional Pac-10 power Washington State, where she was an all-conference honoree last season. Todd's talents impressed the Horns' league opponents this season that she was voted the 2005 Big 12 Preseason Newcomer of the Year.
Also looking to make an impact in her final season of collegiate athletics is former UT women's basketball All-American Heather Schreiber, who was a stand-out volleyball player in high school.
Joining the two older newcomers is a group of three eager freshmen, headlined by a pair of 6-5 hitters in Lauren Paolini and RuthAnn Feist. Paolini, out of Ann Arbor, Mich., was one of the nation's top recruits last year, finishing her senior year ranked seventh nationally by recruiting services and earning Gatorade Michigan state Player of the Year honors. Wallisville-product Feist, like Paolini, was one of Volleyball Magazine's Fab 50 recruits, and led Baytown Christian Academy to three TAPPS state championships.
In addition to the height up front, Elliott has added a back-row player to help Jennings solidify the defense. Kiley Hall, who went to high school with Jennings in Costa Mesa, Calif., as the pair also played on the same club team, will help step into the defensive specialist spot to open the season. Hall, a gifted athlete whose mother played professional volleyball in Europe and whose father played football at UCLA, can also step to the front line and help with the attacking offense.
Texas' home schedule at Gregory Gym features 10 matches this season - all Big 12 Conference opponents. Last season, the Big 12 ranked as the third-hardest conference in the nation according to the RPI rankings and sent seven of its 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament.
UT opens its home slate on Wednesday, Sept 14, when the Horns welcome Colorado to Gregory Gym. Last season, the two teams opened the conference schedule with a thrilling five-game match in Austin, which saw UT pull out the victory in extra points in the fifth game.
Other key matches that highlight the schedule include a Wednesday, Oct. 12 match-up against Missouri, which was picked second - just ahead of Texas - in the preseason Big 12 Coaches Poll. On Wednesday, Oct. 26, Texas and Texas A&M renew the State Farm Lone Star Showdown in front of a national television audience on CSTV. Last season, the two teams played yet another thrilling match in Austin with UT gutting out the victory in the fifth game. Texas closes out the regular-season home slate on Saturday, Nov. 26, when the team hosts defending Big 12 Champion Nebraska, which is the nation's top-ranked team in the preseason polls.
All home matches are set for 6:30 p.m. first serves, except for the Saturday, Oct. 22 match against Kansas State, and the Saturday, Nov. 12 match against Iowa State. Texas will play home football games those days, and the times for the volleyball matches will be set once the football team's television broadcast schedule is set. Fans should check TexasSports.com for updates. Texas' match against Texas A&M is also set for 8 p.m. to accommodate television.
Volleyball season tickets ($64-$80) are on sale now at all Texas Box Office locations, and single match tickets ($4-$8) can also be purchased separately.
No. l 2 Jenny Andrew (6-2 / Jr.-2L): In 2004, allowed the coaching staff the option of playing a 6-2 system
No. 4 Michelle Moriarty (5-10 / So.-1L): A 2004 Honorable Mention All-Big 12 selection ... led Texas to a program record .305 hitting percentage ...finished the 2004 season ranked 20th nationally with 13.26 assists per game
· Both Michelle Moriarty (2004) and Jenny Andrew (2003)were the starting setters in their respective freshman years, and each ranked second in the Big 12 in assists per game.
· Moriarty and Andrew were both selected to train with different USA Volleyball A-2 squads this past summer.
· Moriarty led UT to a program-best .305 hitting percentage last season, the fourth-best mark nationally.
· Andrew adds another dimension at the net with greater attacking and blocking capabilities.
ELLIOTT'S OUTLOOK: SETTERS
"I thought Jenny Andrew had a great spring and she was invited to the A-2 program this summer with USA Volleyball. That extra training helped her to get ready for this year, gain a lot of confidence and expand on her role from a year ago. Michelle (Moriarty) also trained with the A-2 junior team this summer and she had a good spring as well. In the off-season, we worked with her to make her more offensive-minded. Michelle and Jenny have a great relationship and they complement each other really well. I think we have two of the better setters in the country to lead our team and we are excited to have them. Having two solid setters gives us a lot of options offensively."
No. 12 Dariam Acevedo (5-10 / Jr.-1L): In 2004, third on the team in digs (269) ... Big 12 Newcomer of the Year
No. 13 Jen Christian (6-3 / So.-1L): In 2004, ranked fifth on the team in total kills (163) playing only in the front row
No. 7 RuthAnn Feist (6-5 / Fr.-HS): In 2004,a Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 recruit
No. 3 Lauren Paolini (6-5 / Fr.-HS): Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year... a Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 recruit ... ranked seventh in the nation among incoming freshmen by prepvolleyball.com
No. 21 Heather Schreiber (6-2 Sr.-HS): Led Windthorst to four-straight Texas state 1A volleyball championships (1997-2000) ... finished an All-America basketball career last spring
· In 2004, Texas led the Big 12 in hitting percentage (.305).
· Dariam Acevedo enters her second full season on the 40 Acres after earning Big 12 newcomer of the year honors as a sophomore.
· Jen Christian made a significant contribution in the front row during her freshman year and she will look to play an even bigger role during her sophomore campaign.
· RuthAnn Feist and Lauren Paolini give the Horns great height and depth on the outside and the versatility to play in the middle.
· Heather Schreiber joins the Longhorns after spending four years running the hardwood for Jody Conradt's Texas women's basketball team as an All-Big 12 standout and National Player of the Year candidate.
ELLIOTT'S OUTLOOK: OUTSIDE HITTERS
"Dariam (Acevedo) had a great spring. She has all the skills and is a great passer, defender and is one of our most experienced players. Jen (Christian) learned some valuable lessons during her first year. She is our best left-side blocker and has the capability of dominating a match when she plays well. Her overall experience will be an asset for us and she will be asked to carry a bigger load than she did a year ago. We have not seen that much from Heather (Schreiber), but what we have seen are some really good natural instincts. I am excited to get her back in the gym for one year. She brings a lot of experience with regard to competing at a very high level and I think that will help her adjust quickly."
No. 24 Leticia Armstrong (6-1 / So.-1L): In 2004, saw limited action as a redshirt freshman... played well during the 2005 spring exhibition season and will compete for playing time.
No. 44 Brandy Magee (6-2 / So.-1L): In 2004, leads all returnees in hitting percentage (.358)... started every match of the 2004 season
No. 7 RuthAnn Feist (6-5 / Fr.-HS): A Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 recruit
No. 3 Lauren Paolini (6-5 Fr.-HS): Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year... a Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 recruit ... ranked seventh in the nation among incoming freshmen by prepvolleyball.com
No. 33 Jennifer Todd (6-2 Jr.-TR): A 2005 honorable mention All-Pac 10 performer ... led Washington State with 3.66 kills per game, 1.17 blocks per game and 4.62 points per game.
· Brandy Magee was fourth in the Big 12 in hitting percentage and second on the team in blocks during a 2004 campaign in which she garnered Honorable Mention All-Big 12 honors.
· Leticia Armstrong is an outstanding leaper and is coming off of a very strong spring exhibition season.
· RuthAnn Feist and Lauren Paolini give the Horns great height and depth on the outside and the versatility to play in the middle.
· Jennifer Todd comes to Texas after spending two seasons at Washington State and earning honorable mention All-Pac 10 honors last season.
ELLIOTT'S OUTLOOK: MIDDLE BLOCKERS
"We are unquestionably deepest at the middle blocker position. Brandy Magee really stood out for us last year as an all-conference performer. When she's on, she is one of the best middle blockers in the country. She's become a strong attacker from behind the setter. Brandy is our most experienced player in the middle, her game has really progressed and she will be competing for one of the two spots in the middle. Leticia Armstrong - of all of our players - had the best spring practice and showed the most improvement. She is still coming along and if she can progress like she did in the spring she can be a big spark for our program. Jennifer Todd is an All-Pac 10 transfer from Washington State and her numbers speak for themselves. Jennifer and Brandy will complement each other on the court as Jennifer is really good off of one foot and Brandy is good in front of the setter. They have different attacking styles which will help us offensively and keep defenses on their heals. We have mixed RuthAnn Feist between middle and right side to see where she'll work best. Lauren Paolini trained with the Junior A-2 team last summer and she will be a huge asset to us this year. She is a tremendous athlete and she could play left side, middle blocker or right side. I think, with time, Lauren will develop into one of the premier players in the Big 12 and the Midwest Region."
No.16 Alyson Jennings (5-9 / So.-1L): In 2004, led the team in digs (370) during her freshman season... started every match as the team's libero or defensive specialist.
No. 11 Kiley Hall (5-8 / Fr.-HS): Second-team All-CIF performer
· During a stellar freshman season Jennings ranked ninth in the Big 12 with 3.59 digs per game.
· Kiley Hall was an all-state selection in California last year, and comes from an athletic family where her father played football at UCLA and her mother played professional volleyball in Italy for six years.
ELLIOTT'S OUTLOOK: DEFENSIVE SPECIALISTS
"We felt like Alyson Jennings was one of the best liberos in the country last year as a freshman. We are going to expand her role in the passing area this season. She is ready to shoulder some leadership in the backcourt and really help our team. It is very exciting to think that Alyson is only a sophomore. Kiley (Hall) is very athletic and comes from the same high school and club team as Alyson. Kiley has had excellent training and she is a competitor that will be a big asset in our ball control area. Kiley has a solid jump serve and can add depth to our team on the outside hitter position. Kristin (Durant) comes to us as a walk-on from the Dallas area. She is a nice player that will develop in our program. She will be a nice compliment on our team in the back court."