Texas volleyball coach Jerritt Elliott has one decision to make.
UT opens its 2017 season on Friday with a road match against Florida, the No. 12 team in the AVCA’s preseason poll. The Longhorns, who top that preseason poll, will stay overnight in Gainesville for a Saturday showdown with No. 18 Oregon. The two matches are a part of the annual VERT Challenge, which will also feature Nebraska.
The NCAA runner-up in each of the last two seasons, Texas has retained a loaded line-up for this year’s run at a national title. Juggling all that talent doesn’t seem to be keeping Elliott up at night, though, and he told reporters on Tuesday that his line-up is mostly set. That means that outside hitters Micaya White and Lexi Sun, middle blockers Chiaka Ogbogu and Morgan Johnson, setter Ashley Shook and libero Cat McCoy will likely be introduced as starters on Friday. (Elliott has declined to comment on whether White, who was arrested on the suspicion of DWI during the off-season, will play this weekend).
One spot in the starting line-up, however, has not been claimed. Elliott said that outside hitters Ebony Nwanebu and Yaazie Bedart-Ghani are battling for a spot on the pin.
“Those two are All-Americans competing for one spot,” Elliott said. “It’s unfortunate, but they’re doing a good job of pumping each other up and being a part of this. We’re going to give both of them some looks to kind of see how they do in matches.”
The 6-4 Nwanebu enters her senior year as a two-time AVCA All-American, and she led the Big 12 last year with her .379 hitting percentage. Bedart-Ghani, a junior who is the same height as Nwanebu, was used in the middle last season, but she made the NCAA’s all-tournament team as an outside hitter in 2015. Bedart-Ghani is a few months removed from being named the Muscle Milk Female Athlete of the Year, an award that honors athletes “whose athletic accomplishments reflect dedication to sports nutrition.”
In Texas’ intrasquad scrimmage this past weekend, Nwanebu started for a White team that was made up of UT’s expected starters. Bedart-Ghani began the scrimmage on the Orange team, but she swapped places with Nwanebu for the second and third sets. Both players finished out the four-set scrimmage on the White team.