The Longhorns have 14 players on their roster and because of an influx of youth and a key injury, all 14 players have seen see court time. With their lineup in constant transition, it’s hard for the team to find any consistency.
Much of the disturbance in the rotation has been caused by an injury to Sha’Dare McNeal. McNeal is the team’s utility player, meaning she can play any position on the court at any time. This makes her the Longhorns’ most flexible player and perhaps the most valuable to the team’s system.
“Sha’Dare’s return is going to make a big difference for us for many different reasons — it will solidify our passing a little bit more and allow us to have more balance, while allowing us to do some different things offensively,” said head coach Jerritt Elliott in mid-September. “But right now we are confident, the team is playing well. Again, we don’t miss a big beat with Sha’Dare out. But again, she’s definitely a big piece.”
But now McNeal is back, returning to action two weeks ago in a loss to Oklahoma. But the best news for the team is that she is presently almost 100 percent healthy and ready to solidify the rotation.
“It’s exciting, Sha’Dare is almost all the way healthy right now, so now we’re starting to look at her as part of our lineup,” Elliott said. “Sha’Dare can do a lot of different things — she can play on the right for us and gives us some options.”
The change will alter the lineup significantly, allowing Texas to be as flexible as possible with the rotations they have on the court for the offensive and defensive situations.
McNeal’s return will shorten the playing time of a few of her teammates though; most notably Bailey Webster, who has been playing on the right side in McNeal’s usual station. Webster has been playing quite proficiently on that side, after retuning this year from an injury that sidelined her all of last season. It will be tough to get her off the court, and Elliott will have to find her playing time elsewhere.
“Obviously Bailey [Webster] is playing very well over there, so we’ll have to figure out exactly what to do with her, but having Sha’Dare back gives us some balance, and gives us an ability to do different things,” Elliott said. “While ultimately giving us the ability to have our best pin volleyball player out there for all six rotations.”
McNeal’s return isn’t the only change to the Longhorns lineup recently, because in the game against Texas A&M last Wednesday, outside hitter Khat Bell was moved to middle blocker. The change gives the team a stronger presence at the net defensively and reduces the number of errors they will have on that side of the ball.
“We have moved Khat Bell to the middle,” Elliott said. “We’re not done investing her as an outside hitter because I feel that’s where she will ultimately be. But right now we were giving up too many points on the defense side and on out-of-system errors. Ultimately, we were trying to get a little more balance as well. With the move we were able to get more balance in a lot of different areas that night.”
The Longhorns hope that all of these lineup changes will come together beautifully as they take on Texas Tech in Gregory at 7 p.m. tonight.
Printed on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 as: McNeal's back, rotation finally set