Adversity revealed Volleyball's character
Nov. 7, 2010
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
The current version of the Texas Volleyball team is a work of craftsman design, but nothing like head coach Jerritt Elliott dreamed up in the offseason.
After 22 matches, the most recent a victory against Oklahoma on Saturday afternoon, the Longhorns are ranked No. 8 in the nation and riding a season-best winning streak of nine matches, but they’ve also shouldered their share of adversity.
Injuries have affected depth, and Michelle Kocher moved into the starting setter position three weeks ago. The beauty with these Longhorns is their ability to absorb and adjust. The Sooners tested that mettle, storming back from a 2-0 deficit to take the third set at Gregory Gym, then led by as many as six in the fourth.
“We’ve been growing all season long. Our players have bought in, and that’s the most important thing,” Elliott said. “They’ve taken care of individual accountability, and that’s allowed us to meld that into a team atmosphere. We’ve built a lot of trust.”
Trust was built in the practice gym. When early losses to Illinois, Stanford and Florida -- all then ranked in the top five -- bruised the Longhorns’ pride, they mended together by working together. And players are stepping into significant roles.
Roberson has recorded at least 10 kills in each of the past 11 matches, and is now hitting almost .400 from the back row. In addition to her consistent blocking, Doris has become a go-to offensive weapon with her slide option.
“Those have become vital weapons for us,” Elliott said.
As the Longhorns’ personnel and match-up options evolved through the season, Elliott has taken joy in the way the team has embraced coaching and feedback. The collective volleyball IQ of the team has grown, and the Longhorns can translate adjustments from timeout huddles to the floor more smoothly during matches.
“The interaction between the staff and players has just been a lot of fun for us,” Elliott said.
But in emotional matches like the one against the Sooners, sometimes IQ doesn’t matter, and it comes down to fight and want-to. The Longhorns have proven their ability to win in different ways.
“We took control of the first two games, then didn’t play as well coming out of the break. We were challenged and pushed,” Elliott said. “We finally responded late in the fourth, and Juliann really took the team on her back. Those were big-time swings from her in a heated rival battle. We continue to be good in the crunch times.”
Elliott said he would still like his team’s blocking to become more disciplined, which would help generate better defensive touches and thus help the Longhorns earn quality transition swings.
“It’s been a special year, and I want to continue to get better so we have a shot to make a run and keep it going,” Elliott said.