Jerritt Elliott’s resilient bunch is the hottest team on campus. They have the best record of any Texas team sport over the past four years and enter the NCAA tournament this Friday with the ninth overall seed having won 15 straight.
This season, Elliott avoided the national championship game hangover that plagued the football program in 2010. After coming within one point of winning the 2009 NCAA tournament, the Texas volleyball team rebounded nicely this year and Elliott’s squad has transformed itself into a more balanced unit. Unlike head football coach Mack Brown, Elliott and his staff have been able to adjust their game plan to a new-look team.
When the Longhorns take the court at Gregory Gymnasium in the first round of the NCAA tournament, against in-state opponent UTSA, they will do so having not lost in just over two months, with the team’s last defeat on Oct. 2 on the road against Nebraska in a hostile environment.
But after falling to the rival Cornhuskers, the Longhorns regrouped and ran off an impressive stretch of games, including eight sweeps and avoiding the decisive fifth set in each contest.
No. 6 Texas made its presence felt in the Big 12’s season awards, which were announced on Monday. Senior outside hitter Juliann Faucette was named the Big 12 Player of the Year, becoming the second Longhorn in as many years to win the honor. Elliott shared Coach of the Year honors with Nebraska’s John Cook, his third career selection and first since 2007.
“I’m just really honored, I was really shocked when I found out,” Faucette said.
Faucette also earned All-Big 12 first team honors for the fourth straight year, showing why she is the most dominant Texas athlete on the 40 Acres. Junior middle blocker Rachael Adams joined Faucette on the first team — both were unanimous selections — and senior middle blocker Jennifer Doris and junior outside hitter Amber Roberson received honorable mentions.
As the tournament gets underway, there’s still a bad taste in the mouth of the Longhorns, who were on the brink of a championship last year when they suffered a heartbreaking loss to Penn State.
“I still have that in the back of my mind,” Faucette said. “We still feel like we have some unfinished business and it’s going to be tough road, tougher than we’ve ever had since I’ve been here. But it will be fun.”
With the No. 3 seed in the tournament’s Austin Regional, the Longhorns have a legitimate chance to avenge a pair of early season losses that came against Illinois and Florida.
Texas will face the Regional’s second-seeded Illini should the two schools meet in the Sweet 16. Both programs should have no problem advancing to the third round, and a matchup would give the Longhorns another shot at an Illinois team that swept Texas at Gregory Gym on Sept. 3.
It’s an opportunity that is definitely on the mind of junior setter and Illinois native, Michelle Kocher.
“We welcome them back to Austin with open arms,” Kocher said, smirking. “Seeing all the teams in our bracket it’s an exciting opportunity because we’ve played them before.”
But while Illinois and No. 1 tournament seed Florida may be on the horizon, the Longhorns know how important it is to take their first round opponent seriously.
“You never know what’s going to happen in this tournament,” Faucette said. “We have to take [UTSA] very seriously, they obviously made the tournament for a reason.”
Take an underdog seriously? That’s something the football program should consider.
Thankfully for Texas fans, Elliott isn’t about to let his team’s magical season crumble away at the hands of an overmatched opponent.