Senior leadership key to Volleyball's success
Nov. 25, 2011
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
Texas Volleyball's senior night at Gregory Gym has come to develop its own meaning in recent years. Though designed to reflect and applaud the career accomplishments of the senior class, the occasion certainly isn't a destination, or even a finish line.
For the Longhorns, it's a time to pause and appreciate what's already been done, but more importantly, to prepare for what lies ahead.
On Saturday, the fifth-ranked Longhorns host Oklahoma in their final regular season match, needing a victory to claim the Big 12 Championship title outright, and before the match, seniors Rachael Adams, Michelle Kocher, Amber Roberson and Sydney Yogi will be honored with a special on-court presentation.
"I think this is a good end point for the normal schedule -- two games a week, practice every day, the same format," Kocher said. "It allows us a moment before everything gets really serious (in the postseason) and the energy's alive. It's a cool thing."
This senior foursome has been part of a historic growth period for Texas Volleyball. Only the Longhorns and Penn State have qualified for the last three NCAA Semifinals, and of course the Nittany Lions went on to the national championship in each of those seasons.
"It's very rare that you get a group like this, which has been through three final fours. That puts them in a pretty elite class, and they've all been big parts of it," head coach Jerritt Elliott said. "That's a tribute to their work ethic, their commitment to being part of the team and understanding their roles. I know they want to end this one the right way (with an NCAA title), but they also know it's going to be very tough once the NCAA Tournament starts."
The strength of this senior class is in its experience, both on the court and in the locker room.
Adams is a first-team All-American who led the nation in hitting percentage as a junior. Kocher has been a starter in each of UT's national semifinals matches, as well as the 2009 national championship match against Penn State. Yogi and Roberson underscore the meaning of the Texas Volleyball tradition. Their roles on each team have been different, and they've unquestionably embraced everything asked of them.
"Through the years, I've thought a lot, and I figured out the key is to just keep things simple - just play," Roberson said. "Believe in your team, trust the coaches and buy into the system."
Yogi says it's a positive thing that the Longhorns are still playing with so much on the line. A victory on senior night will always mean more if it means a Big 12 trophy is going to be lifted afterward.
"That helps in our preparation," Roberson echoed. "We know it's going to be an emotional night, but at the same time, we do have a match to play. We're not dying or anything. We still play. In that way, it's like any other match."
So, yes, Saturday will be like any other match -- only preceded by four framed jersey presentations, a few tears and many prolonged hugs. But the Longhorns really want to honor their seniors in a way that has become custom, especially as this 2011 season has worn long.
"If anything, this team is one of the closest teams I think I've been on in my four years here," Yogi said. "We truly care for each other. Especially after Khat (Bell) went down, it was one of those things that just brought us closer together, and not tore us apart. I think this class of seniors is definitely ready for a national championship and not just making it to the final four."