When freshman setter Hannah Allison went down, the Longhorns spent very little time in a panic. After all, junior setter Michelle Kocher — the team’s “backup” — may be one of the best setters in the conference, regardless of whether she is starting or not.
Kocher’s tenure at Texas has been nothing short of unconventional. The Wheaton, Ill.-native came to the 40 Acres at the heels of the departure of All-American and Texas’ all-time assists leader Michelle Moriarty. Kocher stepped right in and delivered, starting 31 out of 33 games and garnering Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors.
In last year’s championship runner-up season, Kocher was asked to step down as the lone setter and split time with former Longhorn and All-American Ashley Engle. Head coach Jerritt Elliott often employed a two-setter rotation, so Kocher still saw time on the court.
This season started off differently as Kocher, despite being named the team’s assistant co-captain, started off on the bench, as the team opted for a 5-1 rotation with Allison as the setter.
Kocher mostly played at the end of blowout matches.
Kocher got the starting nod against Texas Tech after Allison went down with an injury, and the Longhorns have not looked back. The team has dropped one set in going 5-0, including an upset of then-second-ranked Nebraska at home, in which Cornhuskers head coach John Cook credited Kocher as the primary difference between the Longhorns’ win in Austin and their loss in Lincoln.
Junior outside hitter Amber Roberson and senior middle blocker Jennifer Doris have seen major statistical increases in kills and hitting percentage. Kocher, who along with her assists nearly averages double-digit digs, said it has been an interesting ride.
“It’s been a rollercoaster experience, but in the same aspect, I’m in the gym every day, so in my eyes, it hasn’t totally affected how I’ve played because every day you’ve still got to put in the time, put in the effort,” said Kocher, who won Big 12 Player of the Week accolades two weeks ago. “I’m still a part of the team whether I’m on the court or not.It’s been different, but fun.”
The Silver Cloud of Injuries
While battling with injuries played a part in the Longhorns’ early-season struggles with consistency and continuity, they have also made some tough coaching decisions easier.
The team has fought its way back to a top-10 ranking despite many of its top players recovering, which serves as an indication of Texas’ depth.
“It’s easy, we stay the same,” Elliott said on maintaining continuity. “We don’t have any other options. Who we have is what we have right now, so I really can’t mess up the lineup right now.”
At the conclusion of the season, the Longhorns will have to part ways with Doris and senior outside hitters Juliann Faucette and Lauren Dickson. But the team will also be welcoming back Allison, junior libero Sydney Yogi, freshman outside hitter Ashley Bannister and sophomore outside hitter Bailey Webster. Throw in the incoming freshmen class and other role players, and the sheer numbers will likely lead to competitive position battles.
With the rest of the season and a potentially-deep playoff run still ahead for the team, it may be too early to be thinking about next season.
Longhorns Statistically in the Conference
With powerful hitting backing the Longhorns’ current eight-game winning streak, the team leads the conference in hitting percentage (.293) and fourth in kills per set (13.6). It also stands second in blocks per set and service aces per set.
Among individuals, Texas’ pair of middle blockers are first and third respectively in hitting percentage with Doris at .439 and junior Rachael Adams at .435. Facette is the team’s top point scorer, averaging 3.81 points per set, which is seventh in the conference.