UT hopes to stop its run of frus­tra­tion

Vol­ley­ball

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - Cat­e­gory Con­tact Suzanne Hal­libur­ton at 445-3954. Twit­ter: @ suzhal­libur­ton HA­LEY VS. BAI­LEY: A TALE OF TWO SEA­SONS

All-Amer­i­can Kills Kills/set Hit­ting Digs Blocks show­ing off the skills that made her the Big 12 Con­fer­ence player of the year. Eck­er­man earned fresh­man of the year hon­ors, but she strug­gled to play well con­sis­tently dur­ing UT’s post­sea­son run, which ended in the Elite Eight. And Bell was forced to of­fer cheers from the bench af­ter suf­fer­ing a sea­son-end­ing knee in­jury a month be­fore the NCAA play­offs started.

All three are ex­celling this De­cem­ber, es­pe­cially Web­ster.

“It’s go­ing well for us, and I think we just need to work on be­ing con­sis­tent and that’s ev­ery day,” Web­ster said. “You can say you’re play­ing well, but if you don’t show up it’s clearly not a good thing. I think just con­tin­u­ing to play as a team and strength­en­ing our team chem­istry is im­por­tant for us.”

Web­ster, a 6-3 ju­nior, is hit­ting .519 in the post­sea­son, with 64 kills and eight blocks. The per­cent­age can be viewed much the same way as a bat­ting av­er­age in base­ball. El­liott said any­thing per­cent­age above .275 is ex­cel­lent.

Eck­er­man and Bell also ex­ceed the .275 bench­mark. Eck­er­man, a 6-3 sopho­more, is hit­ting .333 in the post­sea­son with 45 kills. She was the na­tional fresh­man of the year in 2011 af­ter be­ing ranked as the fifth-best re­cruit in the coun­try coming out of high school.

Eck­er­man has worked enough on her de­fense and on han­dling serves that El­liott usu­ally keeps her on floor when she ro­tates to the back row. This year, she was the Big 12 player of the year.

“For sure, she’s bet­ter able to han­dle the pres­sure,” Bell said of Eck­er­man.

“My vol­ley­ball IQ has really gone up,” Eck­er­man said, in de­scrib­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween her two sea­sons.

The 6-1 Bell, who was ranked as the coun­try’s sec­ond-best prep re­cruit when she signed a year ago, is hit­ting .409 on 34 kills and 12 blocks.

The Longhorns are hit­ting .405 as a team in the play­offs, which is even more in­tim­i­dat­ing than their sea­son av­er­age of .322, which was No. 1 among the na­tion’s 328 NCAA Di­vi­sion I teams.

Their power has trans­lated into a rel­a­tively easy trip to the Fi­nal Four. Texas has dropped only one set in four NCAA tour­na­ment matches, even sweep­ing South­ern Cal­i­for­nia last Satur­day to make the Fi­nal Four.

Michi­gan, mean­while, is mak­ing its first trip to the Fi­nal Four. The Wolver­ines were sixth best in the pow­er­house Big Ten, but they knocked off sec­ond-seeded Stan­ford in Cal­i­for­nia last Satur­day.

Stan­ford is younger than Texas, but nearly as pow­er­ful and ath­letic. Michi­gan beat the Car­di­nal in four sets.

“Stan­ford was (like Texas), too, ath­letic and big, and we do well against those teams,” said Rosen, “but at the end of the day, you have to match up to some de­gree.” Ha­ley Eck­er­man, Texas’sopho­more out­side hit­ter, is this sea­son’s Big 12 player of the year. But Bai­ley Web­ster, Texas’ ju­nior out­side hit­ter, earned the same honor last year. Com­par­ing the two Longhorns’sea­sons:

RODOLFO GON­ZA­LEZ / amer­i­canS­TATES­MAN

Texas’ Bai­ley Web­ster is hit­ting .519 with 64 kills and 8 blocks in the post­sea­son.

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