Ashley Bannister

Injuries once again shorten Bannister’s season

Three years at Texas, two injuries and one season actually played. That has been the career of redshirt sophomore Ashley Bannister, Texas volleyball outside hitter, so far.

The Sugar Land native suffered the second season-ending injury of her career this weekend because of pain and a complication of issues. Bannister has played only three matches this season, tallying 10 kills, six digs and one block.

For the 6-foot-1-inch Bannister, her career hasn’t been what she expected here at UT. She came in as the No. 12 recruit in the country with high hopes of a long career. She played only seven matches her freshman year before her season ended with an ankle injury during practice.

After redshirting that first year, she came back as a redshirt sophomore and was again limited due to injury. Bannister played only seven matches throughout that season where she finished with 11 kills and a hitting percentage of .147.

“She has had to deal with pain on a daily basis with her shins, which has limited her ability to practice at a high level,” athletic trainer DeAnn Koehler said.  “After conferring with our physicians, we did not feel medically that Ashley could continue due to the pain she was experiencing.”

While Bannister’s injuries have limited her career to this point, she has done everything can to get back on the court. She hasn’t stopped practicing or working hard in order to get back to her injury-free potential.

“Unfortunately, with all the injuries she incurred, Ashley has not been able to display the skills that made her one of the premier players when she first came to the University of Texas,” Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “She has experienced numerous injuries throughout her career here. Ashley did everything that all of us asked her to do in order to get back and we feel for her. We appreciate all she has given to make this program better.”

This won’t stop her from being a part of the team. As the Longhorns work to become a top team in the nation and bring back a championship, Bannister will always be at their side.

“Playing for the University of Texas volleyball program has been a great honor and privilege,” Bannister said. “I am looking forward to cheering on the team as they continue their journey to Louisville, Ky. and a national championship.”

Freshman Madelyn Hutson wants to be a big part of the Longhorn rotation this year, along with the three other freshmen of the 2011 class.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

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.

Volleyball head coach Jerritt Elliott talks with his team during a game this past season. In his 11 years as head coach at Texas, Elliott has continually brought many of the nation’s best players to Austin, which has helped with the Longhorns’ recent success on the court.

Photo Credit: Corey Leamon | Daily Texan Staff

Texas is one of two teams to reach the Final Four in each of the last three years. Thanks to the other — four-time defending national champion Penn State — the Longhorns don’t have any titles to show for it.

Now they might have what they need to get over that last hump. Head coach Jerritt Elliott and his staff have reeled in the country’s best recruiting class, a group that includes three of the top 13 prospects: No. 2 Katherine Bell, No. 5 Haley Eckerman and No. 13 Madelyn Hutson. This collection of blue-chippers marks the sixth consecutive year Elliott brings in a recruiting class ranked in the top five.

“Every year, there’s about 10 to 15 players that can help us win a national championship,” Elliot said. “Being a part of the University of Texas, in general, you have some advantages being a part of such a rich tradition and athletic program.”

This class also represents the Longhorns’ ability to recruit nationally as Bell (Texas), Eckerman (Iowa) and Hutson (Tennessee) are from three different states. Despite the distance that separates their hometowns, next season won’t be the first time they have played together. In 2009, they were teammates at the FIVB Girls Youth Volleyball World Championship in Thailand.

Now that they’re set to reunite at Texas, they have created a logjam of sorts. The Longhorns return four starters from last year’s 27-6 squad and not only welcome the No. 1 recruiting class, but also return two highly touted members of previous classes; Ashley Bannister and Bailey Webster. Bannister, a freshman, suffered a season-ending ankle injury after playing only seven matches last season. Webster, a sophomore and the No. 1 high school prospect from the class of 2009, saw her season come to an abrupt end when she sustained a severe knee injury during a preseason practice. Both Bannister and Webster were given a medical redshirt.

“It’s going to be the most competitive gym we’ve ever had here at Texas,” Elliott said. “We really have 12 players that can step on the floor and start. I’ve never had that before at any program I’ve been a part of.”

Bell is certainly one of those 12 players. Elliott even compared her to two-time All-American outside hitter Destinee Hooker and claims she can reach as high as 10’8”. She averaged 7.4 kills, 2.6 blocks and 2.2 digs per set at North Mesquite High School. Not only is she talented and productive, but versatile as well. She can play both middle blocker and outside hitter.

“It’ll be kind of fun to see where she ends up because she is so talented,” Elliott said. “She can be one of the best middle blockers in the country with time because she is exceptionally fast to the ball.”

Eckerman, exclusively an outside hitter, also drew flattering comparisons from Elliott, who called her “a similar player to Juliann [Faucette].” Faucette, like Hooker, also had a distinguished career at Texas, earning first-team All-American honors twice and first-team All-Big 12 honors four times. Eckerman, who had nearly 2,500 kills during her high school career in Waterloo, Iowa, will have her hands full trying to crack the starting lineup. Faucette departs, but senior Amber Roberson is back, while both Bannister and Webster are outside hitters. But Elliott remains confident in her ability.

“She’s got the capability of taking over games at any point in time because of what she can do physically,” Elliott said. “She has really good control of the ball, she moves around really well as an attacker. She’s a smart player. She has a high volleyball IQ.”

Hutson, a 6’5” middle blocker from Brentwood, Tenn., was ranked lower than Bell and Eckerman, but may have the upper hand on them by the start of the Longhorns’ season. She graduated high school a semester early and has practiced with her Texas teammates all spring.

“[Coming in a semester early] was huge for her and her growth,” Elliott said. “Middle blockers are one of the more difficult ones to come in and be great because of the speed of the game. It usually takes a year or two to get really acclimated strength-wise and [learn to] make the right reads.”

Thanks to these three and others such as Bannister and Webster, Texas will have a young team this fall, one that features only three seniors and nine underclassmen — four freshmen and five sophomores. While there might be a shortage of experience on this Longhorn squad, it won’t be short on talent.

“Anytime you make a run at a national championship you usually need a freshman or two in the lineup, and they need to play well,” Elliott said.

In the Longhorns’ case, they could have three or four.

When someone misses over three-fourths of a season, it normally raises doubts as to whether they can contribute to the next season and whether they can still be effective or fully recover from such a serious injury.

Ashley Bannister is answering those questions with a resounding “yes.”

After suffering an ankle injury in September, Bannister sat out Texas’ final 26 matches. Last month, she proved she was ready to take to the court in a Longhorn uniform again by helping her U.S. Women’s National A2 Blue Team capture the Women’s Open Division title at the USA Volleyball Open National Championships in Dallas.

Bannister registered eight kills and five blocks in the first title match to force a second. Her team scored the final four points of the decisive set, winning it 26-24.

Bannister had three kills in that last set and earned a spot on the all-tourney team as she put to rest any lingering doubts about ankle problems. Now, the Longhorns look forward to having their outside hitter back next season. The 6-foot-1 freshman from Sugar Land, Texas averaged more than two kills per set last season in the seven matches she played.

Bannister may find it difficult to rejoin Texas’ starting lineup when she returns. Texas returns four starters and brings in the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class. Bannister, an outside hitter, will still be a freshman next season due to a medical redshirt. She will be competing for playing time against four others — senior Amber Roberson and sophomore Bailey Webster, along with incoming freshmen Khat Bell and Haley Eckerman.

Roberson is the lone returning starter at outside hitter as three-time All-American Juliann Faucette departs.

Webster, the nation’s No. 1 recruit in 2009, understands better than anyone what Bannister is going through, as she suffered a season-ending knee injury before the season even began and also got a medical redshirt. Bell, this year’s No. 2 recruit, can play both middle blocker and outside hitter while fellow incoming freshman Ecerkman is exclusively an outside hitter.

“The competition level is going to be great and it’s going to bring out the best in each player,” said head coach Jerritt Elliott. “The upperclassmen have to ... allow [the underclassmen] to grow and have to trust in our staff that we’re going to put the best team out there to win.”

Despite the wealth of talent at outside hitter (and every position, for that matter), Bannister figures to see plenty of playing time, especially considering the fact that she’s a freshman won’t discourage the coaches from putting her on the court.

It should be interesting to see how Elliott shuffles his talent around. But if Bannister’s showing at the USA Volleyball Open National Championships last month is any indication as to how she will perform this upcoming season, she should see substantial time on the court.