Kocher emerges to steady No. 8 Volleyball
Nov. 13, 2011
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
AUSTIN, Texas -- Through Michelle Kocher’s four years with Texas Volleyball, her consistent competitive state has become a thing of reliability for the Longhorns. Her steadiness and ever-present game face can almost be taken for granted.
It happened again on Saturday, as the eighth-ranked Longhorns found themselves in a tussle with scrappy Kansas State at Gregory Gym. The Wildcats capitalized on seven UT errors to claim the first set, and that’s when Kocher quietly appeared on the floor. Head coach Jerritt Elliott said he didn’t like his team’s rhythm, or lack thereof, in the first set, and after watching Kocher in practice the past few weeks, Elliott “just felt like it could happen.”
What transpired was 39 assists from Kocher that steadied UT’s attack. The Longhorns combined for 34 kills on 57 swings, and just seven errors, in winning the second and third sets to take control of the match and ultimately earn UT’s 31st-straight Big 12 home victory.
“(Michelle) has always connected well with Sha'Dare (McNeal), and she's been setting a good ball to the outside,” Elliott said. “So when I see that and the gain of confidence, I had confidence in what she could do. And I knew she would come in and do a good job for us. We have a lot of talent. That's the great part about this team. But it's been bigger that she's been ready to come in and play, and play at that level.”
Four Longhorns finished with at least 12 kills, and Bailey Webster led the way with 16. Haley Eckerman totaled 15 kills to cap a dominant and efficient week of play. She posted 23 kills in a road victory against Texas Tech on Wednesday.
Another of Kocher’s strengths is setting behind her body, which works well in slide plays. McNeal registered a season-high 13 kills on .667 hitting, many of those swings on the slide. However, one of Kocher’s more remarkable moves came late in the third set, as she dropped to nearly a full squat to set up a quick and powerful swing for Rachael Adams to give UT a 19-13 lead.
“I know it's something I'm comfortable with. I've always been pretty good at (setting behind),” Kocher said. “And, especially when you get in the zone, I wasn't really thinking, ‘Oh, I'm going to go in and set backwards.’ It just seemed natural, and seemed like the right idea at the time. I think if it hadn't worked out, it might not have seemed like such a good idea. But it worked out.”
Kocher has been crafty and composed throughout her Texas tenure. She earned Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors in 2008, and has been nothing but steady and focused in the years since. Kocher became a regular in the UT lineup in November of her sophomore season when the Longhorns switched to a 6-2 offense that pushed them all the way to the national championship match.
Last year, as UT returned to the NCAA Semifinals for the third-straight year, Kocher appeared in all 25 matches and was 16-1 as a late-season starter, when Kocher took over for the injured Hannah Allison. When called to step in cold Saturday night, Kocher again proved she needs no warm up.
“Michelle, coming in, did a fantastic job getting our team in a rhythm and doing a good job,” Elliott said. “Overall, we just got some great production.”
It’s been a week of must-see production since the Longhorns were forced to five sets against Kansas on Nov. 5, after watching freshman force Khat Bell go down in the second with a knee injury that will keep her in street clothes for the rest of the season.
Eckerman shouldered a big load against the Red Raiders, finishing with a career-high kill total and just one hitting error. She finished with 38 kills against Tech and Kansas State.
“I think part of that is Khat being out as another hitter. So, when we're set we know we have to put the ball down,” Eckerman said.