Khat Bell

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

For senior outside hitters Haley Eckerman and Khat Bell, the upcoming NCAA tournament will be a bittersweet moment.

On the one hand, the duo is ready to get going on another run toward a national championship; however, they know that any game from here on out could be their last in a Texas uniform.

“We want it to start, but then we don’t want it to,” Eckerman said. “We just know that we have to go in one game at a time.”

The Longhorns’ road back to the Final Four will go back through Austin and then through Minneapolis. Sunday, Texas was announced as the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament.

Joining the Longhorns in Austin for the first and second rounds, respectively, is Northwestern State, Texas’ opponent Thursday,  and then either Arizona State or Texas A&M — the third-straight year the selection committee has tried to put the two rivals against each other in the second round.

If another edition of the instate rivalry occurs, Bell said it would be like playing Oklahoma.

“Texas is our home state, and we want to own our home state as well,” Bell said.

For the second time in the past three years, the Longhorns enter the tournament off of a loss in the regular season finale after losing a difficult five-set match to Florida on Saturday afternoon. In the loss, Texas failed to capitalize off of 16 Florida
service errors.

Still, the last time Texas entered the tournament after a loss in 2012, the Longhorns went on to win the national championship. Eckerman said the loss to Florida refocused them and motivated them not to let that losing feeling occur again.

“That’s what happened in 2012; we didn’t want to feel that feeling of sitting in the locker room knowing that we had just lost,” Eckerman said. “So that gave us some motivation to change and move forward.”

Although Texas will face a difficult challenge in the second round — no matter whether the opponent is Texas A&M or Arizona State — the Longhorns’ path to get back to the Final Four in Oklahoma City is considered by many to be the easiest of the top-four overall seeds.

The next highest seeded team in Texas’ region is No. 7 North Carolina, which Texas would possibly face in the “Elite Eight.” The Longhorns have a potential “Sweet 16” matchup with tournament dark horse No. 15 Colorado State.

Even with a “weaker” regional bracket, head coach Jerritt Elliott said their focus is on their first two rounds.

“Both Arizona State and Texas A&M are very, very good,” Elliott said. “They’re both a threat.”

But, looking ahead toward her final games as a Longhorn, for Bell, it would mean everything to go out as a two-time national champion.

“To end my senior season with that win would be great,” Bell said.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

American University gave the top-seeded Longhorns an early scare in the Sweet 16, but Texas’ physical size and power proved too much for the Patriot League champion, as they won in four sets (24-26, 25-14, 25-16, 25-20).

The Longhorns (26-2) started slow as American proved they belonged with the powerhouses by taking the first game. After staving off two American match points, the Longhorns committed consecutive errors — a service error followed by a hitting error — to give American (34-3) the match. Their up-tempo pace kept the Longhorn block away, as they outhit the Longhorns .220-.208.  Senior Bailey Webster and junior Haley Eckerman, All-American outside hitters, were kept quiet, while junior middle blocker Khat Bell kept the Longhorns close.

But the Longhorns turned the match around with a dominating second set. They jumped out to a 9-3 advantage and never looked back. While nearly every Longhorns hitter began putting the ball away, Eckerman’s struggles continued as she ended hitting below .200 for the match. As a team, the Longhorns hit .444, committing only two hitting errors. They then began to figure out the American attack and racking up the blocks.

The momentum continued to roll for the Longhorns as they came back from an early 4-1 deficit in set three. A 12-3 run for the Longhorns gave them a lead wouldn’t surrender. For the second straight game, American struggled to stop the Texas attack while getting blocked on many attempts. Texas swung .361, while they killed just 10 shots in 38 attempts.

American hung around in set four, but Webster and  Chiaka Ogbogu, Big 12 Freshman of the Year, proved too much, as they advanced to the Elite Eight, where they will face the winner of Nebraska vs. San Diego.

For the match, the Longhorns hit .324 to American’s .138. Webster led the Longhorns with 18 kills while Ogbogu hit a season-high .786, killing 11 of 14 with no errors. Bell, who sparked the Longhorns, ended with 16 kills on .424 hitting. Senior libero Sarah Palmer also set a season-high with 25 digs.

The big spark came from the Longhorn block, though. They ended with 14 blocks, led by Bell’s 3.5.

Texas will continue tomorrow against the winner of Nebraska and San Diego at 8 p.m in Lincoln, Neb. 

Texas wide receiver Cayleb Jones’ felony charge was dismissed and will be reduced to a misdemeanor to be tried by the county attorney, according to officials from the Travis County District Attorney’s Office and the Travis County Attorney’s Office. 

Jones punched UT tennis player Joey Swaysland on Feb. 22 outside a downtown nightclub after confronting Swaysland and UT volleyball player Khat Bell, according to police. The blow fractured Swaysland’s jaw. Jones was charged with felony aggravated assault on March 12, a criminal offense punishable by up to 20 years in prison. 

Bell told police she had previously been in a relationship with Jones, who had threatened Swaysland before and was jealous of Bell seeing other men — specifically Swaysland. 

According to Nick Valdez, an official at the district attorney’s office, the case was dismissed as a felony and submitted as a reduction to the county attorney’s office on April 12. 

Corby Holcomb, assistant director for the trial division at the county attorney’s office, said the county attorney will examine the case and decide whether to prosecute after the case is filed. As of now, the case has not been filed. 

“Nothing will happen for a while,” Holcomb said.

At a hearing at the 167th Criminal District Court on Monday morning, the case was reset for May 20. Valdez said the reset is misleading due to a lag between computer systems at the two offices, calling the reset “insignificant” because the decision to prosecute is out of the district attorney’s hands. 

UT head football coach Mack Brown issued a statement saying Jones will not participate in team activities until his charges are finalized. 

“We are aware of Cayleb’s situation and disappointed any time one of our players is accused of wrongdoing,” Brown said. “We have talked with Cayleb and his family, and he has been suspended from all team activities pending the completion of the legal process. Any further action will be handled at the conclusion of the legal process.”

Jones’ attorney Rickey Durante Jones could not be reached for comment.

Junior Bailey Webster goes up for one of her 15 kills during Texas’ sweep of Colgate on Thursday.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

Why Texas won:

Swiftly and easily, Texas dominated its first NCAA tournament game against Colgate on Thursday night, swallowing the Raiders and starting the postseason on a strong note.

By the numbers:

4: Number of points allowed by the Longhorns in the first set, the fewest allowed in UT history for non-fifth sets since 2001.
.543: The Longhorns’ hitting percentage, their second-highest of the season
15: Number of kills junior Bailey Webster launched, the highest number of kills on the team

Set by set:

Set One

Bailey Webster’s three subsequent kills at the beginning of the set gave way to more powerful swats and slaps from the Longhorns along with four service aces. One final explosive kill by sophomore Haley Eckerman led to set point, as Texas concluded the set, 25-4.

Set Two

Four straight Texas points and two back-to-back kills by sophomore Khat Bell launched the second set, which included 10.5 Webster points. The set ended on Bell’s kill, 25-11.

Set Three

After an initial Webster kill, Colgate inched up closer to Texas and upped the score. Two back-to-back Bell kills allowed Texas to pull away, 14-9, as freshman middle blocker Sara Hattis stepped in, launching a kill of her own as well as a double-block with junior setter Hannah Allison. The Longhorns completed the sweep at 25-15.

Tournament Tidbits

The numbers were in Texas’ favor: in first round NCAA matches, the Longhorns are 24-0 and have appeared in 29 NCAA tournaments. Starting in 1982, the Longhorns earned their spots in 18 straight NCAA tournaments. Only two other teams, Penn State and Florida, have advanced to the NCAA third round seven times in the past eight years.

Up Next:

After defeating North Carolina State, the Texas A&M Aggies will find themselves once again facing their rival Longhorns. The two Texas schools play at 7 p.m. in Gregory Gym, preceded by a Fan Fest from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Gregory plaza in honor of the game.

Printed on Friday, November 30, 2012 as: Efficient offense leads Texas over Colgate

Sha’Dare McNeal is honored at Senior Night on Saturday with her parents and head coach Jeritt Elliott.

Photo Credit: Ricky Llamas | Daily Texan Staff

Amidst a crowd on its feet for set point, senior utility Sha’Dare McNeal hopped up and slapped the ball across the net, concluding Texas’ 3-0 sweep of West Virginia Saturday afternoon.

McNeal’s final kill of the match was appropriately executed in her last regular-season home game, and she was honored after the game for her career achievements at Texas.

“She’s been a big pat of this program and still is,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said of McNeal. “As a coach, you want to see players develop into confident young women and I’m just pleased with where she stands with her confidence in herself and the lessons she can teach our younger players.”

McNeal’s seven kills and three service aces were not the only high points of the game for the Longhorns. Freshman Molly McCage started the first set on a high note, jumping up to kill the first ball served to Texas. Sophomore Haley Eckerman added five kills, while sophomore Khat Bell tacked on two. Junior Bailey Webster’s block upped the score to 19-9, as the frazzled Mountaineers struggled to respond. The Longhorns finished out the set at 25-14.

Bell’s explosive kill kicked off set two. West Virginia followed closely behind Texas for the beginning of the set, but as the Mountaineers crept closer, Eckerman slapped the ball for a kill, sparking a four-point streak. The set concluded on Eckerman’s kill, closing at 25-17.

Texas’ first seven points in the third set proved insurmountable for the Mountaineers, as they scrambled to respond to the Longhorns’ offense. McNeal and Bell teamed up for a double-block, and Eckerman’s subsequent block made the score 20-12. McNeal’s final kill clinched the match at 25-16.

“Coming into the game, I told myself not to be too emotional,” McNeal said. “But it was a lot of fun getting to play in front of our crowd and our fans.”

Elliott said he was pleased with the team’s performance in its final regular-season match at Gregory.

“Our team was prepared and I think our team knew they were going to have a good chance to win this match, so keeping them focused was important,” he said.

Likewise, he said, the next few games will prove a challenge, even for the No. 3 Longhorns.

“At this point there are no more easy matches,” Elliott said. “We will be in position to be challenged and we want to be in that environment and we need to keep getting experience.“

After a season-ending injury last year, sophomore middle blocker Kat Bell resumes play for the Longhorns, with 42 kills under her belt so far this season.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

Sophomore middle blocker Khat Bell came to Texas ranked No. 2 in the nation along with No. 5 Haley Eckerman and No. 13 Madelyn Hutson, to what was arguably “the best freshman class we’ve ever had here,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said.

But part of the way through the Longhorns’ 2011 campaign, Bell went down. During an early November contest against Kansas in Lawrence, Bell suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Thankfully, a deep bench filled with talent prevented the Longhorns from experiencing a skid after the loss of such a dynamic player.

“She means a lot to this program, and we know she will continue to be an important part,” Elliott said.

As a freshman, Bell was electric, a force to be reckoned with. She averaged 2.67 kills per set and played in every match for Texas before her injury. Bell logged 184 kills in 30 matches while hitting .243.

Prior to the 2011 season, Bell was named preseason Big 12 Freshman Player of the Year while Eckerman went on to earn Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors after the season. In addition, Bell earned Big 12 Rookie of the Week Honors three times in 2011 and was Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week once.

The Longhorns went on to finish the regular season and part of the postseason without a loss. Texas only halted when eventual national champion UCLA beat it in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Division I Championship.

“It’s very tough, especially for a freshman that was so excited to get into NCAA postseason play,” Elliott said. “Especially with the way that she was playing.”
With a brace on her knee, Bell started the 2012 campaign itching to get back...“I feel great, 100 percent ready to go,” Bell said.

Although she feels no animosity toward Kansas, she has marked the game on her calendar as a mid-season goal on the way to a conference and national title.

“I am really excited. Hopefully I won’t have as much bad luck there as I did last year, but I am looking So far this season, Bell has seen a fair amount of action playing in most of the Longhorns’ games, both at home and on the road. She has 42 kills on the season and is hitting .283, already off to a better season than her freshman year.

“It’s pretty tough this year. I’m taking my time. I’m being patient,” Bell said. “I want to be back to where I was before. I know it is going to take some time, but I am ready to sacrifice that time.”

However, in only the second real regular season home match against Minnesota, Bell was seen cheering her teammates on from the bench dressed in warm-ups rather than on the court in her jersey. The sight caused many fans to pause and wonder if she had aggravated the injury and how long the Longhorns would have to do without her.

“She is fine. Her health is good, but we are still on the recovery process with her,” Elliott said. “We want to make sure we are not overdoing it and putting her in a position where she could hurt herself.”

And if anyone had any further questions or reservations as to her health and impact on the team: “There’s no need to worry about what Khat is going to be able to do for us,”
Elliott said.

Printed on Thursday, September 13, 2012 as: Bell bounces back after ACL injury

In a weekend of highs and lows, Texas beat an opponent with a higher hitting percentage and succumbed to a lower-ranked opponent at last weekend’s Nike Big Four Tournament, marking the team’s first loss after five straight 3-0 sweeps.

Texas took on No. 18 Florida Friday, with outside hitter Haley Eckerman posting 16 kills and three service aces to push the Longhorns toward a 3-0 sweep against the Gators. In a match sprinkled with strong performances, outside hitter Bailey Webster had 13 kills, while middle blocker/outside hitter Khat Bell had a season-high 10 kills, hitting .533. Florida’s outside hitter Ziva Recek led the game with 22 kills.

The Gators had an early lead in the third set, but two hitting errors allowed the Longhorns to catch up. After two Gator blocks tied the game at 23-23, Webster closed the set with two straight kills, completing the 3-0 sweep.

“I liked our demeanor and the way we approached each point,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We made plays when it counted, and that tells me a lot about this team. Florida really tested us today.”

The Gators have never been a particularly easy opponent. Texas hasn’t defeated Florida since Dec. 7, 2007. Texas is now 6-12 all-time against Florida.

“My team brought me up from the get-go today,” sophomore Bell said. “I was struggling a bit mentally as far as my performance early, but then I was looking at [Sha’Dare] McNeal, Bailey [Webster], Haley [Eckerman] and they were able to bring me up.”

On Saturday, the Longhorns were swept by No. 4 Penn State on its home grounds in University Park, Pa. Elliott said he saw the Penn State match as a good opportunity for his young team.

A strong Penn State defense held Eckerman and Bell to .231 hitting nights, with Webster hitting .172 on 11 kills. Penn State setter Micha Hancock had 34 assists, five kills, five digs and two aces.

Eckerman tied it up in the first set at 19-19, but Texas committed a service error and two hitting errors, allowing Penn State to take the first set with two more kills. In the third set, Webster tied it at 18-18, but back-to-back Penn State blocks allowed the Nittany Lions to pull away, completing the 3-0 sweep.
 

Eckerman looks on as her teammate sets in the Longhorn's 3-1 victory against the Minnesota Gophers Friday night. The Longhorns were out for revenge after dropping Thursday night's contest which snapped a 33-game home winning streak.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

Sophomore All-American Haley Eckerman had a season-high 19 kills against Minnesota Friday night, also recording a service ace. The outside hitter from Waterloo, Iowa, was the leading scorer in the victory, contributing 22.5 points for the Longhorns — another season high. She bested her previous kill count of 16 against Florida at the Nike Big Four Volleyball Classic last weekend.

Eckerman hit .289 Friday evening with an assist, three blocks and two digs.

Eckerman was joined at the top by junior outside hitter Bailey Webster who also recorded double-digit kills against the Gophers with 14.

No harm done to Horns

Senior outside hitter Katherine Harms was once again the top performer for Minnesota. She registered 12 kills and hit .357 for the Gophers in game two Friday night. Low production for the senior Friday contributed to the Gophers’ loss.

Harms logged 24 kills Thursday, twice as much of her production in game two Friday.

The difference for the Gophers between first game and the second one was a vast difference in hitting percentage. During Thursday’s win, the Gophers hit .327 with 71 kills compared to the Texas average of .170 and 47 kills.

The Longhorns rebounded Friday and hit .216 compared to the Gophers’ .149.

Overall, Minnesota logged just seven team blocks although they edged Texas in kills with 51 compared to the Longhorns’ 49.

“She is good and we knew that,” Texas head coach Jerritt Elliot said of Harms. “I thought we were a little bit calmer, our formations were better, we gave us some more opportunities.”

Bell absent during second game against the Gophers

Sophomore middle blocker Khat Bell, who played Thursday night in the loss to Minnesota, was absent from play Friday night for game two. Bell, who didn’t dress out, stood and cheered her teammates from the bench in gray warm ups.

Last season, Bell suffered a season-ending knee injury against Kansas in early November. Before her injury, she was a powerful force for the Longhorns registering 184 kills and nine assists with a .243 hitting percentage.

So far this season, Bell has played in seven games and started five. She has 42 kills on the season and a .283 hitting average.

In game one against the Gophers, Bell hit .292 with nine kills and contributed 11.5 points for Texas.

(Daily Texan File Photo)

Photo Credit: Amanda Martin | Daily Texan Staff

As head coach Jerritt Elliott enters his 12th season with Texas, the mission remains the same as it is every year: contend for the conference and national titles. Since 2008, Elliott has led the Longhorns to a 110-17 record, including just six conference losses. With the talent that Elliott has on hand after minor attrition this offseason, and a star-studded recruiting class ranked No. 2 in the country, there’s no denying Texas has a legitimate shot at the national title in 2012. Nine letter winners return from last season, and four of the nation’s top 20 high school seniors set to join the team and strengthen an already impressive group of athletes.

This year, Elliott has wrangled two more former U.S. Youth National team members in Nicole Dalton and Molly McCage.

McCage, a 6-foot-3 middle blocker from Klein Collins High School, is rated as the No. 1 incoming freshman in the nation by Prep Volleyball. McCage adds depth to a position that needs just that. A year ago freshman Khat Bell, the team’s starting middle blocker, was quite a force to be reckoned with before she went down with a season-ending knee injury during conference play. McCage will serve as a great backup option to Bell, although it may not take long for the two to compete for playing time, with Bell nearing a full recovery.

“We are excited about Molly,” said Elliott. “She is a very physical athlete, very fast off the floor with a good arm. I think she has the potential to be a great middle blocker in terms of her attacking and blocking abilities, along with her speed. She competes at a very high level and will get after it from day one. We are excited about her. I think she has a lot of room for improvement, which says a lot about where she can end up.”

Sara Hattis, a 6-foot-4 middle blocker from Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, N.M., will also compete with Bell and McCage in the middle. A dual-sport athlete in high school, Hattis was also rated among the nation’s top 100 basketball recruits before choosing to play volleyball at Texas. After playing club volleyball for three months, she led Cleveland to a state runner-up finish in her senior season.

“We are fortunate that she chose volleyball over basketball,” said Elliott. “We have seen a great amount of improvement this year and we are excited to get her in the gym. She has big hands, plays long and has a quick arm swing. In time, she is going to be special. She is a big-time player. She can potentially be the best blocker in this class.”

Maybe the most esteemed of the five incoming freshmen is Nicole Dalton, a 6-foot-2 outside hitter from Chaparral High School in Parker, Colo. Dalton was a teammate of McCage on the 2011 U.S. Youth National Team that competed in the FIVB Girls’ Youth World Championship in Turkey. She was named Colorado’s Volleyball Player of the Year twice (2010-2011), and leading her Front Range AAU team to a bronze medal at the AAU Championships in 2011. Ranked No. 6 in the nation by Prep Volleyball, Dalton is another rangy player that could make an impact sooner rather than later in her collegiate career.

“Cole has the skill set to set and play right side in our program,” said Elliott. “I’m excited on what Cole brings to the table with her setting, ball control, leadership and competitive desire to win.”

Rounding out this year’s recruiting class are two players that are smaller in stature than their future teammates, but have a chance to make just as much of an impact.

Amy Neal and Kat Brooks both play libero, and will back up junior Sarah Palmer, who has been nothing short of an expert at the position as a Longhorn.

Brooks stands at 5-foot-3 and hails from Honolulu, Hawaii, just a stone’s throw from Palmer’s hometown of Kailua. Elliott has shown a fondness for Hawaiian liberos in recent years, with former Longhorn Sydney Yogi also coming from the Honolulu area. Brooks brings the same skills that have made Yogi and Palmer some of the most recognizable and successful liberos in Texas history.

“Kat is a little under-sized, but she has a huge heart and competes well,” said Elliott. “What I like about her is that she is extremely feisty. She is outspoken in a positive way and I don’t think she is going to take a backseat to anyone. She is going to get out there and push from day one. She passes well and plays good defense. I think she will grind it out on a daily basis and we are excited to have her in our gym.”

The final piece of what could be one of the country’s most balanced teams is the 5-foot-10 Neal, who spent her high school days playing at nearby Lake Travis High School. Rated as the No. 18 recruit nationally, Neal led the Cavaliers to a perfect 50-0 record last year, as well as being named the 2011 Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year for the state of Texas.

“[Amy] is a dynamic athlete and can hurt you in many areas,” said Elliott. “Amy’s ball control is what we are really excited about. She can be a very good passer at this level. If she is able to grasp the mentality part of that position, then she is one that will really push for some starting time based on what we have seen and how well she has performed in the back row. Amy is a great addition to this program.”

Overall, Elliott has more than enough talent and experience to engineer another postseason run, but as always it will be about how the team performs late in the year when the games matter most. Elliott has never had a problem reaching the postseason, or even winning games once there, but it’s now up to him and the team to get over the hump and win a national championship. With what Elliott has done in his tenure, and the history that surrounds the Texas volleyball program, a national title should never again go uncontested by the Longhorns.

Volleyball

After suffering a torn ACL in TexasÂ’ 3-2 win over Kansas Saturday, Khat Bell will not play for the rest of the season. Bell, the nationÂ’s No. 2-rated prospect coming out of Mesquite, Texas, was named Big 12 Rookie of the Week three times and Big 12 Player of the Week once this season.

Photo Credit: Trent Lesikar | Daily Texan Staff

Texas freshman middle blocker Khat Bell is out for the remainder of the year after sustaining a season-ending ACL injury in the match against Kansas on Saturday.

“It’s very tough, especially for a freshman that was so excited to get into NCAA postseason play and especially with the way that she was playing,” said head coach Jerritt Elliott. “She had 34 kills on her last 38 attempts with no errors. She was quickly turning into one of the best middle blockers in the country.”

Bell had a stellar freshman campaign, averaging 2.67 points a set while playing in every single match for the Longhorns. Bell was named Big 12 Freshman of the Week three times this year. She made a huge impact in the middle for Texas since her move there earlier in the year from outside hitter, giving them a balance that was missing for much of the year.
Despite being a freshman, Bell was the team’s vocal leader, bringing unbridled enthusiasm and energy to the court and her teammates.

“This team has been through it last year,” Elliott said. “We went through the injury bug and fortunately, up to this point, we’ve been pretty good about staying healthy. We still have a very talented group. There are players that are ready to step up and play at a very high level, and we are still very much in the national championship picture."

Printed on Tuesday, November 8, 2011 as: Bell lost for rest of 2011 season after suffering severe knee injury