SEATTLE — It was a shocking end to a great season.
The buzz around Key Arena during the Final Four in Seattle was about a Texas-Penn State rematch. So when the top-seeded Longhorns were upset by No. 12 Wisconsin, who finished fourth in the Big Ten, in the semi-finals, disappointment befell the players, fans and head coach Jerritt Elliott.
“I was shocked,” Elliott said on his team’s performance. “It was a really tough way to end the season with our poorest performance to date.”
But the season as a whole was anything but a disappointment. All season long Texas was dominant. One game was disappointing as they fell short of championship expectations, but the season was full of great moments to reflect on.
They went more than three monthswithout a loss, winning 23 consecutive matches. They went undefeated in the Big 12 for the first time in program history, never even having to go to a fifth set. They knocked off Stanford and Penn State, who were No. 2 and No. 1, respectively, in back-to-back games in front of a boisterous home crowd.
It’s tough to compare this to a season where they won it all. But in reality, this team was just as good, if not better. They just had one bad game at the worst possible time.
Moving forward, the look of Texas will change.
The energy-filled defensive specialist Megan Futch’s career has come to an end. Senior setter Hannah Allison moves on, as freshman Chloe Collins is likely to take over full time. Senior libero Sarah Palmer graduates, and sophomore Kat Brooks and incoming High School All-American Cat McCoy from South Lake Carroll are waiting in the wings to don the black jersey that Palmer has owned for four years.
But, the biggest loss will come on the outside as Bailey Webster is finally finished at Texas. The former No. 1 overall recruit from Baltimore, Md., lived up to the billing. She was named Most Outstanding Player of last year’s tournament and an All-American. Sophomore Amy Neal and Tiffany Baker, coming off a redshirt season, will compete for her spot.
International standout middle Mirta Baselovic will join sophomore Molly McCage and Khat Bell to form one of the more lethal middle-blocking tandems in the nation, a position that is almost too deep for the Longhorns.
Big 12 Freshman of the Year and second team All-American Chiaka Ogbogu, who was originally supposed to be redshirted, will only continue to improve. Meanwhile Nicole Dalton, who played a big role on last year’s championship team but was forced to sit this year out with a medical redshirt, should be back and healthy.
And of course, you can’t forget Haley Eckerman who still has another year left. The all-American may just be the best hitter in the nation next year.
This season ended in disappointment, but the future remains bright for Texas under the direction of Elliott. The Longhorns now find themselves in the same class as volleyball powerhouses like Stanford and Penn State.
You don’t make it to five Final Fours in six years by chance. There are many more championship runs to come, and Texas volleyball is at the top to stay.