Longhorn volleyball and football play on Saturdays just a block away from each other. Despite an obvious disparity in attention, their recent campaigns were remarkably similar. Much like football, the "Gregory Gazelles" kicked off their 2009 season highly ranked due largely to senior leadership. After cruising through the regular season, the Horns finally caught up with the Nittany Lions in the National Championship. A two-set lead brought the first National Championship since 1988 within sight until Penn State snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. The powerhouse Nittany Lions won three consecutive games to secure their third consecutive national championship. Like their football counterparts, the gazelles Big-12 Championship was largely overshadowed by a heartbreaking loss on the game’s biggest stage.
Once again, Penn State is the team to beat. This time around, Texas will have to play without All-Americans Ashley Engle and Destinee Hooker. Hooker is a McCoy sized loss, as she leaves as the school leader in kills, attack attempts, and service aces. Engle, a two-time captain and fan favorite, earned four All-Big 12 selections.
Fortunately, this is Texas: we don’t rebuild, we reload. Hannah Allison was the big name in the No. 5 recruiting class. Ashley Bannister, Haley Cameron, and Sarah Palmer will also be new faces in Gregory this season. These new additions—and a roster of seasoned starters--earned the Horns a No. 3 preseason rank by the AVCA.
Outside-hitter Julia Faucette’s number one is more than just a number. The 6-2 senior is expected to be a leader on the scorecard and in the huddle. She follows Destinee Hooker as the Big-12 Preseason Player of the Year. Faucette joined the Horns as the No. 2 ranked recruit three seasons ago. Since then, she has amassed three All-Big 12 nods and a Second Team All-American nod from Volleyball Magazine. Faucette could be the most intense athlete on any Texas team. Her game face is a permanent addition to gamedays in Gregory. In her own words, "We want to win the Big 12. We want to win a National Championship. It’s knowing what to do to get there each year has changed, because we have increased each year."
Middle-blocker Rachel Adams will also be called upon to be a leader. A highly ranked recruit, Adams will use her 6'2" height at the front of the net. As a junior who started every match last season, she brings invaluable experience.
Sydney Yogi should be one of your favorite longhorns. She sticks out at 5’2’--fourteen inches shorter than Destinee Hooker--but still excels in a height-orientated sport. At libero, the position distinguished by a contrasting jersey, the native Hawaiian will serve a largely defensive role.
Hannah Allison joined the Horns this spring after graduating early from high school in Arkansas. The top ten recruit might see some early playing time in a setter role. Allison must fight freshman gitters in her first game at the next level, "It will be my first game at home in Gregory Gym, so I am definitely excited about that. Just to start off the year with our fans surrounding us will be great because not a lot of teams get to host a home tournament their first weekend."
Senior Jennifer Doris' 6’5" height will be an asset in the middle-blocker role. Now a junior, previous Big-12 Freshman of the Year Michelle Kocher will get her chance at setter. Last November, Kocher earned herself a starting position. If she can carry that momentum into 2010, she should be a major contributor. Lauren Dickson will have a fifth year of eligibility after transferring to Texas from Virginia for graduate school. Dickson was forced to use a red-shirt after injuring her ankle in 2007. Her experience means she will likely jump right into a outside hitter role. Finally, Bailey Webster was the number one recruit last season and played in twenty-eight matches but will have to sit out this season with a knee injury.
The gazelle’s season kicks off with two challenging tournaments before a tough Big-12 regular season.
This weekend’s Burnt Orange Classic gives the Gazelles home court advantage against TCU, Houston, and McNeese State. Much like the Rice game, these games should provide a good warm up for veterans and starters alike. However, The TCU game cannot be ignored, as the Horned Frogs are looking for revenge after being swept in postseason tournament play. In their second tournament, the Time Warner Texas Invitational, the Horns will be challenged by No. 6 Illinois and almost-ranked Long Beach State.
September’s Nike Big Four Volleyball Classic is a championship tournament before the regular season even begins. The Horns will battle No. 4 Stanford and then face No. 1 Penn State or No. 13 Florida the following day. The survivor will likely become the postseason favorite.
By October, even the freshman will be veterans. They will have to play like it during an early trip to Lincoln to face number-two Nebraska. Rivals Baylor, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma narrowly missed inclusion in the AVCA Top 25. As usual, every team will be gunning for Texas and will bring nothing but their best. The Horns will have the advantage of Gregory Gymnasium, one of the elite venues in college volleyball. The crazed student section is partially responsible for the current twenty-two game home winning streak. Also of note, the Horns are five games away from their 1,000th victory.
If you are lucky enough to live in Austin, go to some volleyball games. Seriously, just go. Volleyball games are all the fun of cheering for your Horns without the cost, time, and effort of the big name sports.