Texas begins to look toward next year

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With 2010 firmly in the rearview, it may be too early for the Longhorns to shake off their crushing exit from the Final Four, but one thing is for certain — Texas has plenty to look forward to in 2011.

Jerritt Elliott’s young team battled adversity during its run to the Final Four, and his talented squad returns seven players who often started for the Longhorns in 2010. Elliott will rely on middle blocker Rachael Adams and outside hitter Amber Roberson as the two roommates will return to lead the Longhorn team this fall.

Both Roberson and Adams will assume the leadership position left by the departing senior class, but the two juniors carefully watched this season’s seniors and are confident they can pick up where veterans Juliann Faucette and Jen Doris left off.

“Looking at them, you have to learn how to take control of a team at a certain time when there’s young players and they’re going to be looking up to you,” Roberson said. “You have to be the one to step up to that and be the one they can count on rather than you counting on them.”

Setter Michelle Kocher and libero Sydney Yogi will also be seniors in 2011 and will inherit a rather young but experienced team — one Elliott believes will find it’s way back to the Final Four once again.

“We’re going to keep getting back here and we’re close to cracking this,” Elliott said.

The Longhorns have been bounced from the Final Four in each of the past three years, coming within a point of the National Championship in 2009. This year’s group was quite younger than the one that made the semifinals in years past, which is something that excites Elliott looking ahead to next season.

“These younger kids have got a lot more matches in them with this NCAA tournament,” Elliott said. “They learned a lot from adversity and going through that. It’s something.”

Texas was hampered by injuries much of the season, with Yogi, sophomore outside hitter Bailey Webster and freshman outside hitter Ashley Bannister missing significant time. Their return will deepen an already loaded Longhorns’ bench, giving Elliott all the tools he needs to put together another run deep into the NCAA Tournament.

“Our program is very healthy, but again, that being said, we have new players and the culture will change dramatically each year doing that,” Elliott said. “We have to teach them, as a family, what it means to be a Texas Longhorn and represent this University, because there are standards and they all have to live by them in the same way.”

The incoming freshman class is one of the top-rated recruiting classes in the nation, and there has been a buzz brewing around the Longhorns for quite some time regarding their chances for a title in 2011. Look for Katherine Bell, Haley Eckerman and Madelyn Hutson — a trio of top-rated prospects — to contribute for the Longhorns from the get-go.

With a mix of talent young and old, a well-versed coaching staff and a recently impeccable track record, Texas could be the last team standing in 2011.

“They’re going to be very good next year, so I’m excited to watch them, and I’ll be one of those Longhorns texting Jerritt next year as they hopefully get back to the Final Four,” Faucette said.