Sarah Palmer

For the second year in a row, No. 4 Texas faces the Minnesota Golden Gophers twice in the same weekend.

After a tough 3-1 loss Thursday, the Longhorns need to bring their best in order to avoid a repeat of last year, when Minnesota swept Texas 3-0 in both matches. According to head coach Jerritt Elliott, the players “come from a really solid background of volleyball,” and although they suffered a loss in four games last night, their skills were very evident on the court.

“We will get back and have been trying to mix with our lineup a little bit and haven’t had a whole lot of time to train,” Elliott said.

He said he will watch the tape and make adjustments to prepare for tonight’s game. Currently in her third season at Texas, libero Sarah Palmer said the team has “always had ups and downs, but overall it’s been a really great experience.”

The older girls on the team were able to help her adjust to the system, and now with a few years of experience, she is able to assist Kat Brooks, a freshman libero, also from Hawaii.

Having already played club together for a few years, it makes the transition a little easier for the incoming player.

Along with providing Brooks the ease of having a familiar player on the court, the coaches have also been integrating her really well, Brooks said, which fits well with Texas’ proposal to recruit top players from all over the nation.

A win against Minnesota will not be an easy one, but the Longhorns definitely stand a chance with their diverse team members and dedicated attitude.

Senior starting Libero Sarah Palmer against UTSA in 2011. Palmer comes to Texas from Hawaii and is joined by former club teammate Kat Brooks, a freshman libero also from the Aloha State

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

People often ask Kat Brooks if she can “hang ten.”

The freshman libero, who hails from Honolulu, Hawaii, is quick to dismiss the surfer stereotype.

“I get asked if I surf all the time, and I’m kind of bad at it,” Brooks admits. “I’ve gotten really weird questions like, ‘Do you live in a grass hut? Is there electricity?’”

Brooks praised her native state as a “great place to grow up” but said she’s always had Texas in the back of her mind.

Sarah Palmer, a junior libero for the Longhorns, a fellow Hawaiian and a former club teammate of Brooks, chose Texas several years earlier. Former Longhorn libero Sydney Yogi also hailed from Honolulu, Hawaii, from the same high school as Brooks.

“The Hawaii connection was a big thing,” Brooks said. “Knowing Sarah loved it here really made me willing to try it out. I felt really comfortable coming here.”

Brooks made her collegiate debut in a 3-0 sweep of LSU, notching 13 digs, the most of any player in the match.

“My first game was amazing,” Brooks said. “It was the best experience running out onto the court and seeing the stadium packed full of fans. It was a dream come true.”

Associate head coach Salima Rockwell said Brooks has taken the initiative from the very beginning.

“Even from the first day of preseason, she’s shown us that she can be on the court and make some contributions,” Rockwell said. “It’s been a breath of fresh air to have someone that young say, ‘I can do this, I can compete.’”

Head coach Jerritt Elliott said Brooks has quickly established herself as an important member of the team.

“You wouldn’t notice that she’s a freshman,” he said. “She just comes in here and she plays. She’s adjusting great.”

Two years earlier, Palmer made the decision to leave her home in Kailua, Hawaii to join the Longhorns.

Despite having to adjust to the heat and the sheer size of UT, Palmer said she wanted something different from home.

“I came from a small private school, so switching to a bigger campus was an adjustment,” Palmer said. “I wanted to go farther from home, because I didn’t want to be dependent on my parents. I wanted to have a more independent lifestyle.”

Palmer was starting libero for 21 matches last season and 22 matches as a freshman. Though she left the sand and surf of home behind, Palmer said the experience at Texas has helped her grow both on and off the court.

“We’ve always had ups and downs but overall, it’s been a really great experience,” she said. “I’m learning a lot of stuff on the court and in school, learning how to manage my time with such a busy schedule.”

A national championship title, Palmer said, is a consistent year-to-year goal for the team.

“We’re always looking for a national championship — anything lower than that is a disappointment,” Palmer said. “This team is working really hard to get to our goal of that in the gym and in school, trying to be at our best.”

Palmer is also taking on the informal role of a mentor for her young teammate Brooks, though she said Brooks is perfectly capable on her own.

“It’s really fun to play with Kat,” Palmer said. “Back home I was an outside hitter so we had different roles and now we’re in the same role. It’s just nice having a friendly face around and having that chemistry. Here and there she’ll ask me questions, but she has a high volleyball IQ, so she kind of learns on her own.”

Brooks said she enjoys playing with a familiar teammate and having Palmer there to rely on while miles and miles from their original volleyball club in Hawaii.

“We played club together for three years, so we’re really comfortable with each other on the court,” Brooks said. “She has helped me a lot with my positioning on the court and learning the different defensive systems, so it’s really awesome playing with her.”

The Texas appeal, Elliot said, extends beyond volleyball, but the familiarity of having a teammate from the same area has helped the girls adjust.

“They come from a really solid background of volleyball, so it’s kind of been a pipeline,” Elliot said. “They just love it here — I think it’s such a nice change of pace for them. We see them smiling and enjoying themselves.”

They’re sure to make plenty of waves of their own on the court this season.

The general consensus is that this year Texas volleyball will be great. But after three Final Four appearances in four years without a crown to show for it, what makes this year the year for the Longhorns?

“We don’t really look at the rankings. We just stick within our team and work hard,” said junior libero Sarah Palmer. “We are just trying to play to the best of our ability so that we can prove to the nation that we can be one of the best teams in the country.”

The Longhorns began their season ranked No. 2 and have since racked up a 4-0 start with a 1-0 Big 12 conference record. This is all despite losing several key starters to graduation, including libero Sydney Yogi. However, sophomore middle blocker Khat Bell will be returning to the Longhorn’s starting lineup after she was knocked out with a season-ending ACL injury against Kansas last fall.

“I feel great, 100 percent ready to go,” Bell said.

As the No. 2 ranked incoming freshman before her injury, Bell recorded 184 kills and posted a hitting average of .243 through 20 matches.

“We know what to do as far as correcting our defense, correcting our offense and communicating for sure is a big thing for us,” Bell said. “We are more confident in what we are doing, what we want to accomplish. We get the picture now.”

In addition, the Longhorns received a group of very talented freshmen, including top-ranked incoming freshman Molly McCage, a middle blocker who was named the Big 12 preseason Player of the Year, and Sara Hattis, who was a three-sport athlete in high school. Hattis was a top 100 basketball prospect before deciding to play for volleyball at Texas. Kat Brooks, Nicole Dalton and Amy Neal round out the recruiting class.

School has barely started, and the Longhorns are already “perfect,” having won their first four matches by the minimum 12 sets, including a win over Big 12 opponent West Virginia. The Longhorns swept LSU, Cal Poly and San Diego in the season’s opening tournament on the 40 Acres.

The real test early this season will come when the Longhorns travel to University Park, Penn., to compete in the Nike Big Four Classic and will face No. 4 Penn State and No. 18 Florida. The Nittany Lions will probably be the highest ranked team the Longhorns face all season. They acquired four national championships in the past six seasons, including a 2009 victory against the Longhorns in five sets.

“I think this year is different. We have a lot of people who can fill in every spot,” said Haley Eckerman, sophomore outside hitter. “I’m excited for a new season ... to see how great our team can be.”

Texas sophomore Sarah Palmer performs a jump serve, a jump serve is risky as it is extremely effective if done correctly, but is also very difficult to consistently do.

Photo Credit: Trent Lesikar | Daily Texan Staff

Bounce, bounce, bounce. Ball steady, arm back, solid contact, over the net, then — hopefully — an ace.

This is the sequence of events that goes through the mind of every server in volleyball while they go through their routine right before and through the serve.

Well, this isn’t completely true; every server has a unique routine that allows her to feel completely comfortable before she attempts to put the ball over the net.

“Whatever is comfortable with you is what you will go with. There is nothing specific that anyone has to do with their routine,” said senior Amber Roberson.

For Roberson, the routine is rather simple. She just bounces the ball on the court until she is comfortable enough to let it go.

“I bounce the ball a lot. I bounce and count in my head, but the repetition of your routine is important,” she said.

However, the serve is not such a simple animal that it can just be defined in routines or in the amount of times you bounce the ball. It has a huge impact on the game.

“It is the first attack that we can put on to the other team, serving a good ball or placing it on a certain player that is not a good passer can throw the other team out of system and work in our advantage when we play defense,” said sophomore Sarah Palmer. “Because it is easier for us to work around a bad pass.”

The service game sets the tone for every possession on the court. A good serve to the correct spot puts even the best of defense on its heels, while a bad serve to the wrong location makes it much easier for your opponent to return and gain control of the point because your defense will be in the wrong location on the court to deal with the opponent’s ball movement.

“The game is basically a serve and pass game. You have to start with a pass/serve,” Roberson said. “Usually, Coach will call us a zone because for setters, it’s harder to set the ball over their shoulders, so as long as we serve the ball to the number he calls it helps a lot.”

For the Texas players, there are many different techniques to get the ball to said point, in the different forms of the serve. There is the float serve, where the ball is hit with no spin to make the path of the serve unpredictable. Then there is the topspin serve, where the ball is tossed high and hit near the wrist to create a high speed serve with spin.

Perhaps most famously is the jump serve, where the player tosses the ball high and makes a timed run and jump at it, creating a high velocity serve with a lot of spin. This is the most devastating serve when performed correctly but also a high-risk option.

Palmer is one player on the Texas roster that employs a jump serve in her repertoire. It is the most aggressive form of the service game, and when done well, it creates lots of problems for the defense, but it is difficult to perfect. This is shown in Palmer’s numbers with the serve. She has the teams’ second-lowest serving percentage at .844 but also is second on the team in service aces with 17, on only 192 attempts.

“It is a bit harder. It has a lot to do with the timing of the ball and the toss and the speed approach into the ball,” Palmer said. “But overall, serving is all the same. You always have to have the right contact and place it on the right spot on the court.”

No matter which way the players chose to get the ball over the net, there are two keys that constitute a good serve.

“The number one most important factor to a serve is velocity and being able to hit the spots you want to,” said head coach Jerritt Elliott.

When those two things are done consistently, Texas is hard to beat because when the ball is placed in the proper place and the defense is scrambling, Texas size at the net takes over, and they win games.

The Longhorns will look to utilize the serve effectively tonight in Lubbock against Texas Tech and win their ninth in a row.

Published on Wednesday, Novermber 9, 2011 as: Texas serves up aces

Hawaii is know for its sandy beaches, great weather and relaxing environment, but around Austin, the Aloha state is know for producing the excellent defensive volleyball players Sydney Yogi and Sarah Palmer.

Last year, Texas starting libero Yogi went down with an injury late in the season. It was Palmer, her backup, who filled in nicely for her.

A freshman, Palmer received instrumental advice and support from Yogi during that period, who coached her through the finer points of playing libero. The advice was helpful because Palmer played an attacking position in high school, outside hitter, and was still working to adjust to playing the defensive libero slot.

“She was always there to cheer me on and support me if I had any questions, and was always there on the bench for me,” Palmer said. “During the final four, she actually wrote me a couple of notes telling me what I should be doing, and staying in that libero mentality, which really helped. I really appreciate all of her support she gave me last season.”

The pair’s journey to Austin started with Yogi, when she committed to Texas over four years ago. While the 40 Acres is a significant distance away from her home in the pacific, when she visited campus, she knew it was the right environment for her.

“I don’t think you can deny the kind of pride that you see when you come and visit the campus,” Yogi said. “It’s like nowhere else you can imagine, burnt orange everywhere is kind of hard to miss. I think you feel a real sense of community here — it’s a just a real special place to be.”

When it came time for Palmer to make a commitment to a school, she looked to Yogi, whose parents are family friends, for advice about the Texas program. Which is when Yogi posed the question, “What better place in the U.S. is there?”

Palmer agreed and decided to come to the Lone Star state.

Yogi doesn’t feel that she had a large influence on Palmer’s decision, though, but she does feel that she made the right choice.

“I didn’t try to convince her to come her or anything, but I answered he questions honestly, and in the end, I think she made a really smart decision,” Yogi said with a wry smile.

Both players have adjusted well to Austin, an immensely different environment in comparison to Hawaii, and love certain aspects of the capital city.

“Austin is so lively,” Palmer said. “There’s always something going on. On any given night, I can look up and see what’s going on and I can find something that would interest me. As opposed to Hawaii where I would just sit around and watch TV or chill with my friends.”

There are certain aspects of Hawaii that are hard to replace though, like the beach. But both players mentioned one thing specifically that is hard to go without.

“The food is definitely the thing I miss the most, my family does kind of a good job sending stuff over, but there are just some things you can’t ship,” Yogi said.

While the food might not compare to their usual Hawaiian diet, they both have found a home in Austin and are a huge part of the No. 8 ranked Longhorns, success. Yogi, Palmer and the rest of the team will be back in action tonight against rival Oklahoma who they went 2-0 against last year.

It’s a fascinating thing to hear the way a native Hawaiian pronounces the name of their home state: Hawai’i — the traditional spelling in the Hawaiian language — with an elegant pause before uttering the final syllable.

Hang around the Texas volleyball team for a few hours and you will be treated to a crash course in the state’s pronunciation from a pair of natives, freshman Sarah Palmer and junior Sydney Yogi.

The two defensive specialists from the island of Oahu share a special bond and take pride in their Hawaiian roots.

“They love volleyball there; everybody comes to watch,” Palmer said. “It prepared me well because Hawaii is known for their defense and that’s how I got recruited here. They pushed me and brought me up to where I am right now.”

Senior outside hitter and co-captain Juliann Faucette said she calls Palmer “Palmy,” a nickname inspired by the state’s scenic palm trees.

Palmer is enjoying her first year in Austin but admits it’s been a big adjustment from life on the islands.

“Everything up here is different — faster paced,” Palmer said. “The girls are taller, more competitive and it’s this new atmosphere that I love.”

Palmer’s teammates give her a hard time about some of her Hawaiian habits, especially her taste for a popular meal on the islands — Spam. Even so, the presence of co-captain Yogi on the team was a major factor in Palmer’s decision to play for Texas and a little slice of home she could recognize.

“It was great knowing that I would have that Hawaiian connection on the team,” Palmer said. “She reassured me that Texas volleyball was a great place to be and I’m glad I chose here.”

Yogi has taken the newcomer under her wing as the two not only played for the same club team back in Oahu, Asics Rainbows Volleyball Club, but also share the libero position.

“Every time I need help or want to ask questions I always know I can go to her,” Palmer said. “She helps me out and teaches me all the things she already knows. She’s great.”

Palmer’s role has expanded over Texas’ last three matches as Yogi has been fighting an injury. The freshman came off the bench in Texas’ upset of Iowa State last Wednesday and tallied a team-high 11 digs. She led the Longhorn defense in Saturday’s loss to Nebraska with a career-high 15 digs — Yogi did not play.

“It’s awesome to see her step up in that role,” Faucette said. “As a freshman it’s really intimidating, especially the libero position. That’s a huge position on the court and you have to be steady. You have to be aggressive and she’s really stepped up and its really a confidence builder for us just knowing that we can have those types of roles filled when we need them.”

Palmer’s big game against No. 3 Nebraska came as no surprise because she has faced tough competition before, training with the U.S. Girls’ Youth National Team in 2009.

“U.S.A. training prepared me mentally to focus on bigger games and how to prepare myself to relax throughout the game and not overwhelm myself,” Palmer said. “I love playing in front of a big crowd and a big atmosphere. It makes you push harder every point to prove everyone wrong.”

Although her family back home in Oahu is nine hours away by plane, Palmer said they keep up with her by watching Texas’ live-streamed games and sending her text messages after every match.

It’s a fascinating thing to hear the way a native Hawaiian pronounces the name of their home state: Hawai’i — the traditional spelling in the Hawaiian language — with an elegant pause before uttering the final syllable.

Hang around the Texas volleyball team for a few hours and you will be treated to a crash course in the state’s pronunciation from a pair of natives, freshman Sarah Palmer and junior Sydney Yogi.

The two defensive specialists from the island of Oahu share a special bond and take pride in their Hawaiian roots.

“They love volleyball there; everybody comes to watch,” Palmer said. “It prepared me well because Hawaii is known for their defense and that’s how I got recruited here. They pushed me and brought me up to where I am right now.”

Senior outside hitter and co-captain Juliann Faucette said she calls Palmer “Palmy,” a nickname inspired by the state’s scenic palm trees.

Palmer is enjoying her first year in Austin but admits it’s been a big adjustment from life on the islands.

“Everything up here is different — faster paced,” Palmer said. “The girls are taller, more competitive and it’s this new atmosphere that I love.”

Palmer’s teammates give her a hard time about some of her Hawaiian habits, especially her taste for a popular meal on the islands — Spam. Even so, the presence of co-captain Yogi on the team was a major factor in Palmer’s decision to play for Texas and a little slice of home she could recognize.

“It was great knowing that I would have that Hawaiian connection on the team,” Palmer said. “She reassured me that Texas volleyball was a great place to be and I’m glad I chose here.”

Yogi has taken the newcomer under her wing as the two not only played for the same club team back in Oahu, Asics Rainbows Volleyball Club, but also share the libero position.

“Every time I need help or want to ask questions I always know I can go to her,” Palmer said. “She helps me out and teaches me all the things she already knows. She’s great.”

Palmer’s role has expanded over Texas’ last three matches as Yogi has been fighting an injury. The freshman came off the bench in Texas’ upset of Iowa State last Wednesday and tallied a team-high 11 digs. She led the Longhorn defense in Saturday’s loss to Nebraska with a career-high 15 digs — Yogi did not play.

“It’s awesome to see her step up in that role,” Faucette said. “As a freshman it’s really intimidating, especially the libero position. That’s a huge position on the court and you have to be steady. You have to be aggressive and she’s really stepped up and its really a confidence builder for us just knowing that we can have those types of roles filled when we need them.”

Palmer’s big game against No. 3 Nebraska came as no surprise because she has faced tough competition before, training with the U.S. Girls’ Youth National Team in 2009.

“U.S.A. training prepared me mentally to focus on bigger games and how to prepare myself to relax throughout the game and not overwhelm myself,” Palmer said. “I love playing in front of a big crowd and a big atmosphere. It makes you push harder every point to prove everyone wrong.”

Although her family back home in Oahu is nine hours away by plane, Palmer said they keep up with her by watching Texas’ live-streamed games and sending her text messages after every match.