After long offseason, Texas prepares to serve up 2018

Keshav Prathivadi

After Texas walked off the floor after getting eliminated in the Elite Eight in Palo Alto, California, at the end of the 2017–18 season, question marks started popping up.

The departure of impact graduates Chiaka Ogbogu, Ebony Nwanebu and Cat McCoy affected Texas’ depth. The Longhorns also lost standout freshman outside hitter Lexi Sun, who transferred to Nebraska earlier this offseason.

In No. 3 Texas’ Orange-White game last week, head coach Jerritt Elliott and the Longhorns appeared to find an answer to the lingering offseason questions: the 2022 recruiting class.

In a match set up to pit Texas’ newcomers against its veterans, the Longhorn fans in attendance at Gregory Gym got their first glimpse of the highly touted freshman class.

Among them are outside hitter Logan Eggleston, who led all players with a 12-kill, 10-dig effort in Saturday’s scrimmage. The 6-foot-2-inch Tennessee native showed she could keep up with well-established attackers, such as junior outside hitter Micaya White, and could have a significant role in Texas’ success this season.

Freshman middle blocker Asjia O’Neal made her burnt orange debut as well. The nation’s third-ranked recruit played both ends of the court and tallied five kills in two quick sets. Elliott’s staff also saw big contributions from freshman outside hitter Katarina Luketic. The Croatia native posted nine kills on the day.

Despite impressive performances from these freshmen, Elliott was looking for a more basic development from his newcomers.

“I was trying to see if I would notice if their behavior, their attitudes, and their body language showed that they were freshmen,” Elliott said. “They were steady and their communication and their routines were really good, so that’s a good sign for us.”

And that’s not the only good sign for Texas. The Longhorns have also retained several key players from last season and with it the leadership it needs to keep the team focused.

Expect the Longhorns to lean on players like White, senior outside hitter Yaasmeen Bedart-Ghani and sophomore setter Ashley Shook. Despite the offseason changes, Texas still has an experienced group that can help its freshmen develop.

“You can really see it with Yaazie,” Elliott said. “(She’s) been communicating very well with us and really mentoring the young players on what this culture is about and being confident in what she’s doing.”

As the pieces come together for Texas’ 2018 campaign, sights are set on yet another conference championship and deep postseason run. Last year marked the first time in five years that the Longhorns failed to advance to the Final Four, and that should be added motivation for this season.

The road to Minneapolis won’t be easy, though. Texas’ slate features ranked matchups with the likes of No. 7 Florida, No. 5 Kentucky and No. 1 Stanford. Elliott himself noted this year as one of the toughest schedules he’s had in his 18 years at Texas.

While 2018 might be about finding the right combination to replace Texas’ departed trio, this is not by any means a rebuilding year.

“It’d be nice to go unscathed through this (schedule), but I assume we’re going to take some losses,” Elliott said. “The great thing about playing this competition is you learn real fast areas of weakness … and areas you’re going to need to improve to perform at a higher level.”

Texas’ 2018 campaign begins with a trip to Lincoln, Nebraska, as they take on No. 18 Oregon on Friday and No. 7 Florida on Saturday. First serve is set for 3:30 p.m. on both days.