It would be easy to compare rosters and conclude that Texas volleyball will regress from last season.
Gone are multiyear All-Americans Haley Eckerman and Khat Bell, whose sparkling four-year runs produced a national championship and two more Final Four appearances, as well as four Big 12 titles and 2,489 kills between them.
The frontcourt friends won 87 percent of their matches as Longhorns, working up a record of 108-15. Without question, they will be missed.
Yet at Friday’s preseason media day, Jerritt Elliott sounded nothing like a coach ready to hit reboot. His third-ranked Longhorns, who will hold a public scrimmage Saturday, are expected to again push for a national title.
“What you don’t factor in is how much better the returning players are, ” said Elliott, who enters his 15th season at Texas with three seniors and five juniors.
Elliott said middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu, the Big 12’s co-preseason player of the year, can now elevate off one foot, something she couldn’t do last year when she led the team in hitting percentage (.420). He added that outside hitter Paulina Prieto Cerame “is a significantly different player, ” and libero Cat McCoy has matured after a productive freshman season. Seniors Molly McCage and Amy Neal are back, too, from a run to the NCAA semifinals.
“People think we lost some big players, which we did, but we get to reload, ” Elliott said. “It’s a different team dynamic.”
Elliott said he has gotten over the end to last year, which came under questionable circumstances when a referee determined Neal touched a ball at the net that traveled out of bounds in a four-set loss to BYU. Elliott said he watched footage four or five times and Neal “wasn’t even close” to making contact. Good came from the controversy, though; the NCAA instituted video replay for the upcoming season. Texas has installed an overhead camera at Gregory Gym.
“It’s time to move on, ” Elliott said. “We have some different pieces this year that I’m excited about.”
Among them is junior Ebony Nwanebu, a transfer from Southern Cal who played on the same club team as Ogbogu. Nwanebu, who replaces Bell at opposite hitter, was the national freshman of the year in 2013.
Big 12 preseason freshman of the year Micaya White headlines a three-member signing class Elliott says will push for playing time. White is out indefinitely after surgery on a stress fracture in her left leg, but Elliott hopes she can play this season and will know more by mid-September.
“She’s a player that can add another punch to us, ” Elliott said.
Contact Ryan Autullo at 512-445-3958.