The Longhorns plan to pick up right where they left off last December. Texas brought home the program’s second national title after sweeping Oregon in Kentucky last fall and are seeking back-to-back titles this season.
All but one starter, former Longhorn Sha’Dare McNeal, will be returning to Gregory Gym when the season starts at the end of August. Senior Bailey Webster and junior Haley Eckerman are returning after strong performances last fall. Both were on the short list for National Player of the Year last year and led the team in kills and
Khat Bell, who was named Defensive Player of the Year by COBRA Magazine for 2012, will also be returning. Eckerman was COBRA’s National Player of the Year and, along with Webster, was Volleyball Magazine’s Co-Player of the Year. Sophomore Molly McCage, the top-ranked freshman by Prep Volleyball last year, will be returning. McCage led the Longhorn starters last year with a .398 hitting percentage.
The Longhorns’ solid recruiting class will provide additional depth for the Longhorns during their national title run. Setter Chloe Collins enrolled early at Texas and got some experience this past spring with the Longhorns. Collins and middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu were both Under Armour High School All-Americans. Pilar Victoria Lopez comes to Texas from Puerto Rico after serving as team captain for the Junior National Team in Puerto Rico.
The squad was busy this summer touring Europe. They trained against national teams, learning how to play on the road in unfamiliar atmospheres.
“Home court advantage was huge for us,” Eckerman said.
The Longhorns were able to host both the regional and super regional during last season’s post season. This year, they have a chance to host the regional but will have to travel to a pre-selected site for the super regional.
“It’s why we [went] on this Europe trip,” Eckerman said. “To prepare and get used to being on the road, to learn how to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.”
The Longhorns will have a difficult non-conference schedule highlighted by the NIKE Volleyball Big Four Classic which they will host in Austin in September. They will face Penn State and Stanford in the Big Four Classic. Last season, the Longhorns were swept on the road by Penn State.
Texas will face Nebraska at home before starting their conference schedule on the road against TCU. The Longhorns’ Big 12 home season opener will be against Oklahoma at the end of September.
“We have a tough preseason and we need that,” Eckerman said. “We need to be challenged in the beginning to get the kinks out.”