Bailey Webster

Despite losing four seniors, including Sarah Palmer, the Longhorns look to recover from a disappointing end to last season in the NCAA Final Four.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

After its 2013 season came to a disappointing end in the NCAA Final Four, Texas put itself on the road to redemption.

Head coach Jerritt Elliott was shocked by the team’s poor performance on college volleyball’s biggest stage last fall. Texas was expected to play Penn State for the national championship, but, instead, the Wisconsin Badgers upset the Longhorns in four sets to send them home.

Despite going undefeated through conference play and winning its third consecutive Big 12 championship, Texas failed to reach its goal of winning back-to-back national championships. The Longhorns went on a 23-game winning streak that spanned three months in 2013, defeating, at the time, No. 2 Stanford and No. 1 Penn State. But the shocking loss to the Badgers seemed to overshadow the Longhorns’ success in 2013.

Now, Texas will look to claw its way out of that shadow as it begins its 2014 campaign. The Longhorns lost four seniors, including outside hitter Bailey Webster and libero Sarah Palmer, but the program brings back a team chock-full of talent that will look to win its fourth consecutive Big 12 championship. Key players returning for the
Longhorns are senior outside hitters Haley Eckerman and Khat Bell, as well as junior middle blocker Molly McCage and sophomore middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu. Incoming freshman international standout Mirta Baselovic and high school All-American Cat McCoy are expected to make immediate impacts in their first seasons in Austin.

Baselovic will join McCage and Bell in one of Texas’ strongest positions: middle blocker. McCoy is expected to compete with junior Kat Brooks to replace Palmer at libero.

Texas’ biggest loss was Webster, who earned 2013 Volleyball Magazine All-America First Team and AVCA Second-Team All-America honors. Replacing Webster will be difficult, but junior outside hitters Amy Neal and Tiffany Baker will compete for Webster’s spot.

The Longhorns will rely on Eckerman throughout the season to provide a spark for the team. Eckerman, a two-time All-American, was named 2013 Volleyball Magazine Player of the Year. She was also named Big 12 Player of the Year for the second consecutive year and was a finalist for the 2013 Honda Sports Award for Volleyball.

To start the season, the Longhorns are ranked second in the American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll behind Penn State, despite receiving 11 first-place votes. Texas will look to continue its 16-game Big 12 winning streak in 2014 while attempting to make its sixth Final Four appearance in seven years.

Texas begins the season on the road in the University of New Mexico Tournament from Aug. 29-30, with the team competeing against UTEP, New Mexico and Seattle in tournament play.


Games to Watch:

Arizona vs. Texas
Texas’ first home game is against the Arizona Wildcats in the 26 West Longhorn Classic. Also competing in the tournament are Florida A&M and Central Florida. All games will be held at Gregory Gym on Sept. 12-13.

Texas vs. Nebraska
Texas will face a top-10 opponent when it travels to Lincoln, Nebraska, to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Sept. 20.

Texas vs. West Virginia
The Longhorns open conference play in Morgantown, West Virginia, and Texas will look to extend its conference winning streak when they play the West Virginia Mountaineers.

Zhejiang (Chinese Club Team) vs. Texas
The Longhorns will match up against Zhejiang, one of the top Chinese women’s club teams, when they meet in the first of back-to-back exhibition games in late October.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns are headed back to the Final Four.

Junior outside hitter Haley Eckerman had 14 kills and 15 digs to lead top-seeded Texas to a straight sets win over 8th seed Nebraska and into the semifinals.

Texas will now travel to Seattle, Wash. to face off against No. 12 Wisconsin on Thursday.

Texas, the defending NCAA champion, downed Nebraska (25-19, 25-22, 25-23), the first sweep of Nebraska at home since 1989 and only the fourth sweep of the Huskers ever in Lincoln.

The Longhorns (27-2) dominated the first set, opening up a 6-1 lead and never letting Nebraska (26-7) as the Huskers hit just .106 against the strong Longhorn defense. The second set was tight, but Texas outscored Nebraska 5-2 after a 20-20 tie, taking the win on a block by senior outside hitter Bailey Webster.

Texas trailed for much of the third set but pulled ahead 18-17 on a pair of service aces by sophomore outside hitter Amy Neal and clinched the win on two Webster kills that made the score 24-22.

Webster had 12 kills for the Longhorns. Kelsey Robinson led Nebraska with 21 kills.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

American University gave the top-seeded Longhorns an early scare in the Sweet 16, but Texas’ physical size and power proved too much for the Patriot League champion, as they won in four sets (24-26, 25-14, 25-16, 25-20).

The Longhorns (26-2) started slow as American proved they belonged with the powerhouses by taking the first game. After staving off two American match points, the Longhorns committed consecutive errors — a service error followed by a hitting error — to give American (34-3) the match. Their up-tempo pace kept the Longhorn block away, as they outhit the Longhorns .220-.208.  Senior Bailey Webster and junior Haley Eckerman, All-American outside hitters, were kept quiet, while junior middle blocker Khat Bell kept the Longhorns close.

But the Longhorns turned the match around with a dominating second set. They jumped out to a 9-3 advantage and never looked back. While nearly every Longhorns hitter began putting the ball away, Eckerman’s struggles continued as she ended hitting below .200 for the match. As a team, the Longhorns hit .444, committing only two hitting errors. They then began to figure out the American attack and racking up the blocks.

The momentum continued to roll for the Longhorns as they came back from an early 4-1 deficit in set three. A 12-3 run for the Longhorns gave them a lead wouldn’t surrender. For the second straight game, American struggled to stop the Texas attack while getting blocked on many attempts. Texas swung .361, while they killed just 10 shots in 38 attempts.

American hung around in set four, but Webster and  Chiaka Ogbogu, Big 12 Freshman of the Year, proved too much, as they advanced to the Elite Eight, where they will face the winner of Nebraska vs. San Diego.

For the match, the Longhorns hit .324 to American’s .138. Webster led the Longhorns with 18 kills while Ogbogu hit a season-high .786, killing 11 of 14 with no errors. Bell, who sparked the Longhorns, ended with 16 kills on .424 hitting. Senior libero Sarah Palmer also set a season-high with 25 digs.

The big spark came from the Longhorn block, though. They ended with 14 blocks, led by Bell’s 3.5.

Texas will continue tomorrow against the winner of Nebraska and San Diego at 8 p.m in Lincoln, Neb. 

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns continue their road to Seattle Friday night at 6 p.m. against American University in Lincoln, NE. If Longhorns survive that game, they will continue Saturday against the winner of No. 8 Nebraska vs. No. 9 San Diego, both of whom Texas has beat earlier in the year in five sets.

But their sights aren’t set on the Saturday’s top-ten rematch just yet.

"It's interesting. But we haven't looked that far,” All American outside Bailey Webster said. “We are just focused on American right now."

American (34-2), owns the best record of any team in the tournament and has won 16 games in a row, is one of the surprises of the tournament so far. After rolling through an easy regular season schedule, they surprised many with sweeps against Georgia and No. 16 Duke in the first two rounds. Texas (25-2), who has won 21 straight of their own, will play American for the first time in the program’s history.

"We know that American is a really good team,” Webster said. “We've got to see them play a little bit in their previous match. We all think that they are a great team. We have respect for them. We think that all four teams here have a reason for being here."

Texas seeks its eighth straight regional semifinal victory. Overall in the “Sweet 16,” they are 18-6.

The first game will be on Saturday’s match will be aired on ESPNU.

"We're excited to be here,” Elliott said. “The program doesn't take for granted how hard it is to get to the Sweet 16. We get to play in front of a great crowd and it's going to be a great four teams that are going to be here. We expect there to be some high level volleyball."

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

For the eighth straight year, the Longhorns have advanced to the NCAA regional, or round of 16, after knocking off Texas A&M (25-14, 25-18, 15-25, 25-19) Friday evening in Gregory Gym.  While Texas State’s quick-tempo offense avoided the Texas block in the first round, the Aggies couldn’t find their away around Texas’ front line, who recorded a season-high 18.5 blocks in the match.

“We’re not used to going up against Bailey [Webster] who touches 17 feet,” A&M middle Sierra Patrick joked. “They are supposed to block us. They are massive.”

Four of the seven first game blocks came in the match’s first 12 points, helping Texas jump to a 9-3 advantage. Senior setter Hannah Allison also started the match spreading the ball more than against Texas State where 75 of the 110 sets went to All-American outsides Haley Eckerman and Bailey Webster. With better ball movement came better results as Texas swung a season-best .684 in the first set.

“Film refreshed our minds a bit,” junior middle Khat Bell, who recorded eight blocks in the match, said. “We were feeling it from the start.”

Texas’ ability to put the ball away didn’t carry into the second match as A&M was able to hang around. The Longhorns had the same amount of kills—14—as they did in the first set, but needed 28 more attempts. However, A&M’s inability to put balls away and nine errors, led to Texas going on a 13-5 run to close the match.

Texas’ sluggish played continued into the third set, where poor passing and eight hitting errors, led to A&M crushing the Longhorns by ten points, their second worst set of the year.

“We broke down passing while having some bad swings offensively,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We had eight hitting errors. And on the flip side, the Aggies played well.”

The Aggies kept the momentum rolling into the fourth set, opening a 6-3 lead. Led by Webster and the Texas block, though, the Longhorns went on a 6-1 run to open a 9-7 advantage; they wouldn’t trail again. A 7-0 run pushed the Longhorns lead to 19-12, before they closed out the rival Aggies.

“We got back to the basics and starting playing our game.” Eckerman said.

Eckerman finished the night with 20 kills while Webster recorded 18 of her own. The Longhorns, who finished the night swinging .298, will continue their road to Seattle Dec. 10 in Lincoln, NE where they could potentially face No. 16 Duke and No. 8 Nebraska on their home court if they win their second round games Saturday.

“It was a battle,” Elliott said. “It’s hard to play a perfect match. They put pressure on us and I’m proud of how our team responded. No matter what seed you are, we don’t take this win for granted. It’s an honor to be in the round of 16.”

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

The top-seeded Longhorns swept Texas State (25-13, 26-24, 25-16) in the NCAA tournament opener in front of a sold out Gregory Gym. Despite the final score, it didn’t feel like a sweep. Texas State’s quick, low-to-the tape offense countered Texas’ high-ball, power game.   

“I was impressed with Texas State,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “They played well and put us on our heels. I’m happy we responded and bounced back, though.”

The Longhorns (24-2) started off strong, killing nine of their first 13 attempts to open a 13-5 advantage — one Texas State (24-13) could not come back from. With five kills from junior All-American outside Haley Eckerman and four from the senior setter Hannah Allison, the Longhorns made it look as though it would be a quick match. Texas State struggled a hitting and finished at -.031 hitting percentage, with more errors than kills — Texas hit .429.

Texas kept the momentum rolling in the second game with a 7-1 run sparked by junior middle blocker Khat Bell’s two kills and two aces. As Texas opened the lead to eleven, Texas State turned on the jets, going on an 19-8 run to even the score at 21. The two went back and forth until the score was even at 24. Texas’ other All-American, outside hitter Bailey Webster, put the game and the Texas State threat away with
back-to-back kills.

“We let up a little and didn’t finish the right way,” Eckerman said.

Elliott agreed.

“Individual players were trying to do too much,” Elliott said. “We were a little erratic. But after the time-out, we trusted our system and went on a run to close the game.”

Texas State kept its momentum rolling into Game 3, opening up an 8-4 advantage. But in the end, the power game of Texas proved to be too much. Eckerman and Webster simply out jumped the Texas State defenders. The pair combined for 75 of the 110 attempts in the match. Texas closed on a 13-4 run.

“Our goal was to run a fast offense,” said Texas State head coach Karen Chisum, who had to deal with a lot in the past few days as her mother suffered a serious heart attack Wednesday morning. “We can’t play with them on the high outside offense, but we got them in game two. [Elliot] got a little frustrated. They got a little frustrated. That made me smile.”

The Longhorns continue their road to Seattle against former rival Texas A&M (19-11), who took down UTSA in straight sets just before the Texas game. Texas A&M finished seventh in the SEC and is a rematch of last year’s round of 32, in which Texas won 3-1. The game will be at 7 p.m. in Gregory Gym.  

“Every team is here for a reason,” Webster said. “We will get everybody’s best effort.”

Bailey Webster has made the most of her four years at Texas, earning All-American honors. As a senior, Webster is hitting at a .295 clip on the offensive end and ranks second on the team with 270 kills this season.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

Five years ago, it looked as if the 6-foot-3-inch outside hitter from Maryland, Bailey Webster, was ready to take over the Texas program. Webster was the nation’s top recruit, earned All-Big 12 freshman honors and was slatted to replace All-American Destinee Hooker in the lineup, becoming the star everyone expected when she signed. 

But in preseason workouts the next season, in her short-lived sophomore campaign, Webster went down with a knee injury. Surgery cost her an entire season, and a chance at helping her team. 

“Obviously we miss her, and we knew that she was going to be a huge part of the team,” then-captain Juliann Faucette said after the injury. “We hope that her recovery is fast and she’s set up for next year.”

That’s exactly what happened. Webster came back the next year in dynamic fashion, earning AVCA All-America first team honors. Then she repeated her production the next year, taking home first-team honors once again and sporting her signature leg brace in the process.

But her accolades and play are sometimes overshadowed by junior Preseason Player of the Year Haley Eckerman, who plays the same position.

Webster’s .326 career kill percentage trumps Eckerman’s .270 mark. And in every year the two have played together, Webster outhit Eckerman in terms of percentage. But Webster doesn’t think she’s being overlooked.

“I don’t ever think of it like she is overshadowing me,” Webster said. “Haley and I are really good friends and we are teammates first and foremost. All the honors she gets she deserves.”

Although Eckerman may have the better overall game — her defense and service skills trump Webster — Webster may be the more lethal offensive player, committing fewer errors and executing at a higher percentage.

“Honestly, I’m just working on hitting in practice and being smart,” Webster said. “Every set isn’t going to be perfect. Those moments when you can choose to swing your hardest or play it smart helps your hitting percentage”

Now in her fifth and final season, she looks back on everything that has happened.

“I’ve grown a lot. A lot,” Webster said. “Especially after my knee injury. This program has made me a better person.”

And with the tournament just around the corner and her time winding down, Webster has enjoyed every minute of her time donning burnt orange.

“It’s really exciting and especially being my fifth year,” Webster said. “Every season is exciting and different. We have a chance to be a better team by the time it comes. We have a lot to work on.”

And that work continues Thursday when West Virginia (18-11, 4-9 Big 12) comes to Gregory gym at 7 p.m. A win and an Iowa State loss would guarantee Texas at least a share of the Big 12 title.

With five conference games remaining until the Big 12 tournament, the Longhorns remain undefeated after a four-set win against Kansas on Saturday.

Top-ranked Texas (18-2, 11-0 Big 12) notched its 14th-straight victory this season against Kansas (19-6, 9-3 Big 12), outhitting the Jayhawks .293-.191 in a win that was closer than the score would indicate.

“We’ve just got to continue to be able to respond,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We struggled obviously in our ball control game today, therefore we had to rely on these two [senior Bailey Webster and junior Haley Eckerman] so much. We’ll go back and address it, get better and continue to grow emotionally as well.”

After dominating Kansas 25-15 in the opening set behind five kills from Webster and a .481 attack percentage as a team, the Longhorns were beat up in the second frame. Kansas jumped out to a 10-4 lead and never looked back, holding Texas to just a .051 kill percentage on 39 attempts.

The third set was a back-and-forth battle of attrition with four lead changes, but the Longhorns found a way to outlast the Jayhawks for a 25-22 win. Game four played out the same as the third, with Texas finding the advantage late for a 25-21 win.

Eckerman led the Longhorns with a season-high 25 kills while junior Khat Bell led the team in blocks with seven.

The Longhorns will resume conference play in their quest to remain undefeated Saturday against Texas Tech.

“It would be a great accomplishment to go undefeated, but like he [Coach Elliot] said, it hasn’t really crossed our minds because I think we’re just focused on one game at a time, and, although it would be great, it’s more important learning as a team,” Webster said. “There are a lot of things that are more important that we’ve got to experience together.”

Amy Neal and the Longhorns had a great weekend on the court, knocking off No. 1 Penn State and No. 2 Stanford as a part of the Nike Big 4 Classic. 

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

A day after knocking off No. 1 Penn State, No. 6 Texas dispatched No. 2 Stanford in four sets to cap off a great weekend.  

Texas made sure to avoid another lackadaisical start like it had against Penn State, jumping ahead of Stanford with an 8-2 run. Stanford bounced back from the early onslaught to tie the game at 17 before Texas reached match point leading 24-21.

After a few attack errors by the Longhorns, Stanford tied the game on what appeared to be a tip by one of their players. Texas kept its composure, however, and took the set 29-27.

“We’ve been through this before and after we won [against Penn State], we moved on to looking at Stanford and scouting them and were just worried about the next day,” senior outside hitter Bailey Webster said.

In the second set, Stanford raced out to an early 8-4 lead, attacking the middle of the Texas defense relentlessly. Texas battled back to tie the set at 12, but Stanford’s pace was too much as it out-hit Texas .273 to .146 to take the set 25-18 and even the match.

Much like Saturday’s game against Penn State, Texas dug deep and responded after a bad set with a 25-16 thrashing of the Cardinal in the third. The Longhorns out-hit Stanford .294 to .222 while recording 13 kills.

“We flipped our lineup to try to give them different looks,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We responded to them by being a little more aggressive with our body posture and how we touched the first ball, and we were able to score.”

The Longhorns kept up the tempo to open the fourth set on an 8-4 run as freshman Pilar Victoria began to find her game, notching three of her six kills in the set. Stanford continued to attack the weak middle of the Texas front and eventually tied the game at 23 before the set went to extra points.

With the sellout crowd of 4,256 fans behind the Longhorns, a service ace by Haley Eckerman and a block by Webster gave Texas a 27-25 win in the fourth set and a 3-1 match victory.

“They run a really quick offense and that was just something we had to get used to,” senior libero Sarah Palmer said. “Eventually we picked up on that and our blockers did a great job towards the end of the game picking up on the hitters and knowing their tendencies, which really helped out with the defense in the back row.”

Eckerman led the Longhorns with 15 kills in the match, and Webster added 13. Palmer did a great job patrolling the middle of the floor to negate the Stanford attack, registering a team-high 19 digs in the match.

Escaping the weekend with wins over the top two teams in the country gives Texas a ton of momentum heading into next weekend with matches against top-25 opponents Illinois and Nebraska.

“It’s early. Should Penn State and Stanford and Florida do well, this bodes well for us, but we’ve got to be able to take care of business,” Elliott said. “We potentially could get some big RPI points to become a top seed. We still have some big challenges on the road next weekend at Illinois.”

Top-ranked Texas traveled to Hawaii this past weekend to begin its quest to defend its 2012 National Championship at the Chevron Rainbow Wahine Invitational. In the team’s opening matchup with Hawaii, however, Texas received inconsistent play, resulting in a four-set loss.

“We expected it to be a tough battle, and Hawaii is so good at home,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We needed to put our team in some stressful environments, and playing in front of nearly 9,000 people is a stressful environment.”

In front of an announced crowd of 9,806, the Longhorns fell behind Hawaii early in the first set after a six-point run gave Hawaii a 10-4 lead. They did their best to fight back, but eventually lost the set 25-19 while being outhit .212-.344.

Texas began the second set strong and used a 5-1 run to build a 17-12 lead before taking the set. The team’s .625 hitting percentage in the set, was the Longhorns’ match high. 

Hawaii continued to punish the Longhorns’ defense in the third set, amassing a 16-11 lead until a pair of kills from sophomore middle blocker Molly McCage led a 7-2 run, tying the set at 18. A kill by junior outside hitter Haley Eckerman gave Texas a 20-19 lead late, but Hawaii held off Texas’ rally in extra sets to win 27-25.

The Rainbow Wahine Invitational held Texas to only 10 kills in the final set to clinch the match with a 25-16 win. Senior Bailey Webster led Texas with a match-high 19 kills and Eckerman notched 13.

The Longhorns rebounded in their second match against the University of Texas-El Paso, sweeping the Miners three sets to none. Freshman outside hitter Pilar Victoria bolstered the Texas offense with a match-high 14 kills.

The Texas defense showed some boisterousness that wasn’t seen against Hawaii, holding UT-El Paso to a subzero hitting percentage on seven kills and eight errors. Although the final two sets were closely contested, the Texas offense, led by freshman Chloe Collins with a match-leading 33 assists, proved too much.

In its third and final match of the weekend, Texas rallied from a 2-1 deficit against San Diego to force a fifth set, of which the Longhorns took full advantage. 

After falling behind in the first three sets, Texas and San Diego traded point-for-point in the fourth set before a kill and a block by outside hitter Webster forced a final set. The Texas offense demonstrated its dominance in the fifth frame, building an 8-3 lead, which it never relinquished.

Webster and junior middle blocker Khat Bell recorded 12 kills each against the Toreros while sophomore Amy Neal notched a career-high nine kills along with five digs. 

The offense looks poised for another big season but if the Longhorns want to contend with the likes of No. 2 Penn State and No. 3 Stanford, both of whom they will host this weekend at the Nike Volleyball Big Four Classic, they need to find uniformity.

“A lot of our team is back, but there are different pieces and teams are better,” Elliott said. “We’ll get better.”