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.