Volleyball set to kick off season in Hawaii

Evan Berkowitz

The last time Texas volleyball took the court in a meaningful game, confetti showered the team following its national championship.

But when they travel to Hawaii this weekend for the Chevron Rainbow Wahine Invitational, there will be no confetti waiting in the rafters. Instead, it’s the beginning of the grind to return to the top.

The Longhorns, led by head coach Jerritt Elliott, will play three games in 24 hours. Because of oceanic time, all three games will be played Saturday in Central Standard Time, starting with Hawaii and followed by UTEP and San Diego.

Texas hasn’t fared well against those schools historically, only holding a winning record against UTEP (3-0). Hawaii traditionally dominates Texas, winning 10 of the teams’ 12 matchups, while Texas and San Diego have split their two contests.

“It’s an opportunity for us to get better,” Elliott said. “It’s an opportunity for us to compete.”

While in Hawaii, the Longhorns  won’t need travel guides, as both of their liberos, Sarah Palmer and Kat Brooks, were raised in Hawaii.

“We are glad our team is here in our home state,” Palmer said. “It will be fun showing them around.”

Only one senior graduated from last season’s national championship squad, Sha’dare McNeal, and it reflects in the polls. The Longhorns garnered 55 of the 60 votes in the AVCA Coaches Poll and will begin the season at No. 1 for the first time in program history.

“We have a lot of experience,” Elliott told his team during a practice in Hawaii on Wednesday. “But we aren’t going to be perfect on the first weekend.”

In addition to an already deep roster, Elliott brought in a top-five ranked recruiting class for the eighth-straight season. Pilar Victoria, Chloe Collins and Chiaka Ogbogu will represent the new freshman class, while Tiffany Baker transferred from Tennessee.

Ogbogu led Coppell to the 5A state title, earning high school All-American honors and the Gatorade Texas Volleyball Player of the Year award. Ogbogu was also named to the MaxPreps high school All-American team. 

Junior outside hitter Haley Eckerman was named the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year, with outside hitter Bailey Webster and middle blocker Khat Bell joining Eckerman on the all-Big 12 team.

But with soaring expectations, Elliott wants his team to be able to enjoy the ride.

“We are getting better on a daily basis,” Elliott said. “But obviously we have a ways to go. I want us to have fun Friday night and not be so stressed out. There’s no pressure on us to be perfect this season. I said that from the very, very get go.”