The Longhorns have proven time and time again, they don’t rebuild — they reload.
The term “rebuilding year” loomed over Texas last year after the burnt orange fell to Kansas and Iowa State in the regular season and failed to capture the Big 12 title for the first time since 2010. But after struggling before the NCAA Tournament, head coach Jerritt Elliott and his team’s response to the doubters was rather familiar: Texas stormed its way to another Final Four berth, the program’s fifth straight.
The Longhorns have made the Final Four in eight of the last nine years, but only have one trophy to show for it. A 2012 national championship now seems to be a distant memory after coming one win short of a championship in both 2015 and 2016.
So coming off two crushing defeats in the national title game, the question surrounding Gregory Gym has shifted from ‘Will Texas make it this year?’ to ‘Will Texas finish it this year?’
Here’s how the 2017 roster shapes up as the Longhorns prepare for another season with championship aspirations
Who Texas Loses:
The Longhorns lost three pivotal pieces at the conclusion of last season. Texas will enter next year without a pair of setters in Chloe Collins and Nicole Dalton, as well as outside hitter Paulina Prieto Cerame, who averaged 3.5 kills a set last season. Collins and Prieto Cerame were anchors of Elliott’s lineups last year, oftening shouldering the offensive burden.
Texas not only loses key contributors, but valuable experience. Dalton is a national champion, dating back to the 2012 team, and Collins and Prieto Cerame both played significant roles in Texas’ Final Four appearances.
Reasons for Optimism:
Although Texas will be without three key contributors next season, it has several reasons for optimism. The Longhorns return 14 of the 17 players from last year’s squad, including All-Americans in senior Ebony Nwanebu, senior Chiaka Ogbogu and sophomore Micaya White.
Elliott will also usher in the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class per PrepVolleyball.com. Lexi Sun, an outside hitter and top prospect in the nation, will join fellow top-five prospect Brionne Butler, a middle blocker from Boling, Texas.
The Longhorns will also add another top-ten prospect in setter Ashley Shook. The three freshmen additions mark Elliott’s 11th top-five recruiting class since 2003 and his first No. 1 class since 2011.
The question going into this year won’t be about the quality of play from Elliott’s team in the regular season. The Longhorns will be a major threat for the national title, just as they are every year. But can the Longhorns finally and be the team who hoists the trophy at the end of the season? That question remains to be answered.