Three straight Final Four appearances is something that head coach Jerritt Elliott can be proud of. But this year is a completely new ball game for the team that is going to rely greatly on its young players, specifically its four freshmen.
The team boasts three of the top 15 recruits in the nation with No. 2 Khat Bell, No. 5 Haley Eckerman and No. 13 Madelyn Hutson.
“We’ve got, arguably, the best freshman class we’ve ever had here,” Elliott said.
The team has great chemistry and is learning a lot about how to play together. But Elliott still hasn’t seen the team play in an actual game, and he is interested to see their progress this weekend.
“That combination of our veterans getting better, getting some of the people back from injuries and a great freshman class, the mix is allowing us to be potentially a good team,” he said.
In addition to the three freshmen, Ashley Bannister, who redshirted last year because of an injury, was named one of the top outside hitters in the country going into last season.
Although players such as Juliann Faucette will be missed, Elliott said there is great potential for these new players to step up and fill the shoes of previous dynamic players.
“I think you are going to see some new faces that are going to emerge as potential stars,” Elliott said. “That’s what you hope for in a program — you kind of get to a point where you hopefully are able to recycle some new players in there.”
Each season, college teams change both playing-wise and personality-wise. The freshmen, who have been self-described as fun and boisterous, hope to utilize that energy and get the team excited for the season.
“Our freshmen are coming here with a bit of a personality and add a great dynamic,” Elliot said. “They are a little louder than our upperclassmen, so it’s a fun blend and the upperclassmen and feeding off that as well.”
In addition, the team has bonded greatly while working out over the summer at 6 a.m., and they are building trust and confidence in each other.
Both Elliott and freshman outside hitter Hutson said that there is a lot of talent on the team, but piecing the players together is necessary for the team to continue to be successful.
Although Hutson isn’t exactly sure what it will take to push the team to the next level, she is confident that with time, they will get there.
“Obviously, there are already big shoes to fill,” Hutson said. “But we are just trying to keep our eyes on the prize and stay together as a team, working individually and as a group.”
Senior middle blocker Rachael Adams, who was named Big 12 preseason player of the year, plans to lead her young teammates as they embark on their first season in burnt orange.
“We have a very young team, and what they need now is an example — and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do,” Adams said.
“Each day, come in and take no days off, and hopefully, they can follow in my footsteps and work just as hard.”
Printed on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 as: Texas' top-ranked freshman class ready to make early impact.