Madelyn Hutson

After a season-ending injury last year, sophomore middle blocker Kat Bell resumes play for the Longhorns, with 42 kills under her belt so far this season.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

Sophomore middle blocker Khat Bell came to Texas ranked No. 2 in the nation along with No. 5 Haley Eckerman and No. 13 Madelyn Hutson, to what was arguably “the best freshman class we’ve ever had here,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said.

But part of the way through the Longhorns’ 2011 campaign, Bell went down. During an early November contest against Kansas in Lawrence, Bell suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Thankfully, a deep bench filled with talent prevented the Longhorns from experiencing a skid after the loss of such a dynamic player.

“She means a lot to this program, and we know she will continue to be an important part,” Elliott said.

As a freshman, Bell was electric, a force to be reckoned with. She averaged 2.67 kills per set and played in every match for Texas before her injury. Bell logged 184 kills in 30 matches while hitting .243.

Prior to the 2011 season, Bell was named preseason Big 12 Freshman Player of the Year while Eckerman went on to earn Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors after the season. In addition, Bell earned Big 12 Rookie of the Week Honors three times in 2011 and was Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week once.

The Longhorns went on to finish the regular season and part of the postseason without a loss. Texas only halted when eventual national champion UCLA beat it in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Division I Championship.

“It’s very tough, especially for a freshman that was so excited to get into NCAA postseason play,” Elliott said. “Especially with the way that she was playing.”
With a brace on her knee, Bell started the 2012 campaign itching to get back...“I feel great, 100 percent ready to go,” Bell said.

Although she feels no animosity toward Kansas, she has marked the game on her calendar as a mid-season goal on the way to a conference and national title.

“I am really excited. Hopefully I won’t have as much bad luck there as I did last year, but I am looking So far this season, Bell has seen a fair amount of action playing in most of the Longhorns’ games, both at home and on the road. She has 42 kills on the season and is hitting .283, already off to a better season than her freshman year.

“It’s pretty tough this year. I’m taking my time. I’m being patient,” Bell said. “I want to be back to where I was before. I know it is going to take some time, but I am ready to sacrifice that time.”

However, in only the second real regular season home match against Minnesota, Bell was seen cheering her teammates on from the bench dressed in warm-ups rather than on the court in her jersey. The sight caused many fans to pause and wonder if she had aggravated the injury and how long the Longhorns would have to do without her.

“She is fine. Her health is good, but we are still on the recovery process with her,” Elliott said. “We want to make sure we are not overdoing it and putting her in a position where she could hurt herself.”

And if anyone had any further questions or reservations as to her health and impact on the team: “There’s no need to worry about what Khat is going to be able to do for us,”
Elliott said.

Printed on Thursday, September 13, 2012 as: Bell bounces back after ACL injury

Weekend Preview

Freshman Haley Eckerman (10) rises up to block an Missouri players’ shot in a recent game. Eckerman has led No. 9 Texas to a 19-4 record.

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

The No. 9 Longhorns (19-4, 12-1 Big 12) are heading to Missouri this weekend with a lot of momentum pushing them towards a Big 12 conference victory. With just three games left in conference play, the Longhorns have definitely hit their stride and are making progress as a team. They won their eleventh straight match on Wednesday against Baylor.

As with any team there are setbacks, and this team seems to be injury prone.

But, the team doesn’t seem to be letting it bother them and players like Michelle Kocher, Madelyn Hutson and Haley Cameron are getting the opportunity to see the court.

Every player on the team can be subbed in at any time and the team doesn’t miss a step.

Hutson came into the game on Wednesday and had two kills in the second set and two assisted blocks. She was a key part in the team’s 25-19 second set victory.

Kocher, who has been impressing head coach Jerritt Elliott in practice, has earned more playing time as the season has progressed.

She came into the game in the third set and had eleven assists and helped the team hit .464 with 14 kills.

Kocher and Hutson have an impressive connection on the court that led to Hutson’s six kills on the night.

“It’s just conveying what we do in practice on the court in the games,” Hutson said. “We work hard every day, so it’s great to be able to show it.”

The rest of the Longhorns are hitting their stride. On Wednesday against Baylor, Sha’Dare McNeal had nine kills and Haley Eckerman had a team high of ten.

As the season comes to a close, no one can deny that this team is a force to be reckoned with. They face Missouri on Saturday, who they swept earlier this season.

“I like our team,” Elliott said. “I think we’re getting better. I think we’re able to make good decisions.”

Published on Friday, November 18, 2011 as: Longhorns take on Missouri, sights set on postseason run

Senior outside hitter Amber Roberson spikes the ball on Wednesday night against Baylor. Roberson finished the match with two kills and three digs.

Photo Credit: Andrea Macias-Jimenez | Daily Texan Staff

Nothing seems to be able to slow down this Texas squad, not even a hungry and motivated bear.

Baylor (18-12, 5-9 Big 12) came into the match fighting for a spot in the NCAA tournament, but No. 9 Texas (19-4, 12-1 Big 12) controlled the pace of play, even after a very sluggish start in the first set. Winning the match in straight sets (25-23, 25-19, 25-16) on Wednesday night at Gregory Gym.

Texas received a very balanced performance from its whole squad, getting great production from the bench, while spreading the kills around. When it was all said and done, this approach worked great for the Longhorns, hitting a respectable 71 percent for the match.

Freshman Madelyn Hutson really stood out on the floor for Texas — and not just because of her 6-foot-5 height. She had an excellent attacking game, hitting .750 while putting down six kills.

“Maddie was fast in her approach, which is something that we always get on her in practice,” said head coach Jerritt Elliott. “Her speed and trusting her speed because there is a big result for slide hitters when they are able do that.”

Hutson also showed a really strong connection with backup setter Michelle Kocher, as the ball always seemed to be set in just the right spot for Hutson to finish when Kocher set for her.

“We (Hutson and Kocher) had a really good connection, and tonight, it just flowed really smoothly,” Hutson said.

The Longhorns played well, but they struggled to deal with an energetic Baylor squad early on in the first set. The pace of play was slow, with each team calling two time outs in the set, something that rarely happens in the collegiate game. Texas was able to pull the set out late on a 4-2 run, aided by a set-ending pair of errors from the Bears to eke out a win.

From there, Texas took control of the match, hitting a much higher percentage in the final two sets. The team dominated the second set and made quick work of a Baylor squad that seemed to have lost its motivation after falling in such a closely contested first set. Texas won the second 25-19 in a quick-moving contest and did so without any errors, a huge improvement over the seven errors it had in the first.

“We had zero hitting errors in game two and only one in game three after seven in game one, and ultimately, in there, relays the results of playing well,” Elliott said.

The third set was much of the same for Texas as they continued to control play, despite starting the set with only two starters on the floor. The Longhorns took the set 25-16 and really finished off the Bears without much of a whimper, despite their loud bark at the beginning of the match.

It was Texas’ 11th-straight win in the Big 12, and while other teams are getting weaker as the stress and wear and tear of the season goes on, Texas seems to be hitting its stride.

“This is a very tough time of the year for a lot of teams, as they have been going since August,” Elliott said. “Keeping them balanced both physically and mentally is key and letting them be fresh, and I’ve been pleased with what they have been doing because they understand that responsibility.”  

When Khat Bell went down with a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago, it could have been a disaster for the Longhorns. But thankfully for Texas, her teammates, especially those coming off the bench, have filled in nicely as the team has gone 2-0 in its time without her.

“We played well in both of our matches with our new lineup, in having Madelyn Hutson replace Khat Bell,” said head coach Jerritt Elliott. “I thought we played extremely well against Texas Tech on Wednesday, probably our most solid performance from top to bottom of the whole year.”

Hutson, a freshman, has performed quite adequately replacing Bell. She fits comfortably into the system, contributing four kills in her two games as a starter.

Freshman Haley Eckerman has also stepped up large off the bench helping to ease the loss of Bell. In last week’s games she had a set average of 5.43 kills, while hitting at a .397 clip. These stellar numbers earned her Big 12 Rookie of the Week honors this week and places her firmly in contention for national freshman of the year.

Performances like these from the team’s bench players make the transition to life without Bell much easier.

“We feel good with where we are. We’re having to change a couple of things, but for the most part it’s getting comfortable from a couple of different positions that were added because of the change,” Elliott said. “But overall we’re seeing some good things, especially on Wednesday night.”

The Texas bench isn’t just good. It is deep as well, and that depth helps them pull out matches in which their starters aren’t playing well, as it did on Saturday against Kansas State when the Longhorns used 11 players in a comeback victory.

“It is one of the great things about our program. We have a lot of depth and we have a lot of different lineups that we play throughout the year. Especially in the Big 12 where it’s necessary, and nights like Saturday night prove that,” Elliott said.

Texas’ bench will look to aid the team in keeping its 10-game winning streak rolling tonight against Baylor, which should be an interesting test as the Bears are fighting for their tournament lives.

“Baylor is playing well. They just beat Oklahoma, and they’re fighting for a spot in the NCAA tournament, so we know that they will play well,” Elliott said.

Highly prized recruit Khat Bell greets the media for the first time since arriving on campus this fall. The freshman hopes to fill the void left by Juliann Faucette, who graduated in May after leading the Longhorns to a third straight Final Four appearance.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

For the past three seasons, the Longhorns have reached at least the national semifinals of the NCAA Tournament, and all three times they have come up short. Two of those three defeats have come against Penn State, a team that is quickly becoming a rival to Texas. For freshman hitter Khat Bell, the gameplan this year is simple: Beat Penn State.

“I want to beat them,” Bell said. “Our goal this year is the national championship, and if that path goes through [Penn State], then that’s who I want to beat.”

Much of the reason Texas has found itself among the final four teams in recent years has been because of the play of hitter Juliann Faucette. Faucette started three years for the Longhorns, and at the end of her time at Texas, she had become a force to be reckoned with.

Having graduated last year, she now sits among the all-time greats that have played for head coach Jerritt Elliott and the Longhorns. As good as Faucette was for the Longhorns, there’s not much drop-off between her and Bell. Both players are natives of San Diego and were highly regarded coming out of high school.

Bell knows how important Faucette has been for the Longhorns, and she hopes to make a seamless transition into her role.

“They are definitely big shoes to fill,” Bell said. “I hope to start and help this team continue to do well.”

Bell checks in at 6 feet 1 inch and attended Mesquite High School outside of Dallas. She was ranked as the No. 2 recruit nationally — the same number Faucette was ranked when she came to Texas.

Bell, along with fellow freshmen Madelyn Hutson and Haley Eckerman make up another incredible recruiting class for coach Elliott. All three are ranked within the top 15 national recruits for the class of 2011.

“We have high expectations for this group,” Elliot said. “The three freshmen are pretty spectacular.”

Like many athletes that have come before her, Bell had to make a tough decision on where to attend college. She had been leaning heavily toward attending Oklahoma, but a visit to Norman put to rest any doubt on where she was going to play.

“I was a big fan of Oklahoma as a kid, mostly for the football,” she said. “But after I went up and visited the girls there, I felt more at home with the girls at Texas.”

Elliott has done an outstanding job of nabbing recruits from nearly every corner of the country. This year’s squad includes two Hawaiians, girls from Ohio, Tennessee, Arkansas, California, Iowa, Illinois and Maryland.

Hutson, a 6-feet-5-inch utility player from Brentwood, Tenn., described the entire program as having a “family environment.”

With team practices in the gym starting just a week ago, Bell has quickly established herself as a vocal leader on the team.

“I’m really loud,” she said. “I like to keep things exciting and yell all the time.”

A vocal leader is exactly what the Longhorns need entering this season. Bell provides a powerful replacement to Faucette and should bring the same intensity to the team. With her in the spotlight, the Longhorns should be more confident than ever before.

Printed on August 25, 2011 as: Freshman hoping to replace Faucette

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.