Volleyball serving notice
The Texas volleyball team might soon be called in to work for the United States Post Office to aid in service, and to help receive and return packages to sender. After all, this year's squad is an outstanding service and reception team.
Texas' strong serving and great receiving game has been sound throughout the season as the Longhorns are 15-0, and are off to their best start since 1990. You could even say it is one of the top reasons for the turn-around from the team's 9-6 record at this same time last year.
Nearing the halfway mark of the season, this 2004 Texas team's stats have shown incredible improvement from last year, particularly in the areas of service aces and reception errors. The UT squad's development has shown a dramatic difference in both categories thus far.
Last season as juniors, Mira Topic (Kastela Kambelovac, Croatia) and Bethany Howden (Austin, Texas) led the team in service aces with 21 and 17, respectively, through 15 matches.
Topic has continued her torrid serving this season with 19 aces, while Howden - one of the schools all-time leading ace producers - has stepped back from the serving rotation to allow three freshman to step up to the serving line.
Howden has been receptive to her new role and speaks highly of freshman libero Alyson Jennings' (Costa Mesa, Calif.) ability to create scoring chances off her serve.
"Alyson has a really good jump serve, and her serve is a lot more consistent than mine," Howden said. "Having her in the rotation has been great for the serving game so far this year."
Freshmen Michelle Moriarty (Houston, Texas), Jennings, and Sarah Holloway (Aurora, Colo.) have all made great contributions serving, as Moriarty is second on the team with 16 service aces. The first- year trio has also developed quite a reputation of running off some spectacular runs from the service line, including Holloway's impressive 10-0 run that she reeled off to open game two of the Iowa State match (Sept. 22).
"I have worked a lot on my jump serve and I am trying to mix it up moving from side to side, and hitting to different areas of the court," the 5-9 Jennings said of her serve.
Although, the individual accomplishments this season are impressive, the teams improvement from 70 service aces through 15 matches last season, has improved to a hefty 83 service aces (1.73 aces/game) in the same number of matches this season, which ranks second in the Big 12.
Texas' outstanding serving has been remarkable and was recognized after the big win against perennial national power Florida (Sept. 29), by Gators head coach, Mary Wise who said, "Texas is the best serving team we've played all year."
This year's squad's drastic statistical improvement in the reception error category, and the margin separating those numbers from last year's abysmal error total at this point in the season is quite large.
Alyson Jennings at the libero position, has made an immense difference, as her miniscule 11 reception errors bests the 39 receiving errors by the team's liberos at this point last season.
Texas has improved on its 93 return errors in 2003 by tallying only 34 so far this season. This is due in large part to the steady play of Jennings at the libero position, who has made an immense difference, as her miniscule 11 reception errors bests the 39 receiving errors by the team's liberos at this point last season.
In addition to Jennings' efforts Topic's back row play has progressed, and she has seen her reception error total decrease from 19 last season, (through 15 matches) to six this season.
"The team's defensive improvement in minimizing receiving errors means a lot because we are a team that wants to win every single point of every single match," Topic said.
However, Topic does acknowledge such success will come easy as the Longhorns' remaining opponents are quite imposing. "Our conference schedule is so tough, and we know that we have to play well each and every match."
Texas' success so far this season has been rooted in the fact that the service and reception games have been very strong. The importance of these two aspects of the team's game will continue to be important as the Longhorns forge ahead into a difficult Big 12 conference schedule, and set their sites on a conference championship and postseason success.
In the meantime, the entire Longhorns team, and especially the sextet of servers, will do what Howden says is one of the team's unofficial mottos for the season: "Doing whatever is necessary to help us win one game at a time."