Key pieces of Horns’ ti­tle team will re­turn

Vol­ley­ball

Austin American-Statesman - - C SPORTS - Con­tin­ued from

cham­pi­onship could be, but this feel­ing is worth all we’ve all gone through to get here,” El­liott said Wed­nes­day, four days re­moved from hoist­ing the tro­phy with his team in Louisville.

The Longhorns flew back to Austin around mid­day Sun­day, then rolled into the Frank Er­win Cen­ter to be feted by fans dur­ing half­time of the Texas-Ten­nessee women’s bas­ket­ball game. The team looked as it if had spent the pre­vi­ous 16 hours cel­e­brat­ing their na­tional ti­tle, and El­liott con­fessed that he didn’t sleep at all Satur­day night.

Since then, the mag­ni­tude of win­ning the cham­pi­onship has started to set­tle in.

“Really, there are times dur­ing the day that I kind of sit up and re­mem­ber that we just won the cham­pi­onship, and I just shake my head and smile,” El­liott said.

It didn’t take long be­fore fans started ask­ing about next year, and whether the Longhorns — who went 29-4 — can win a sec­ond straight na­tional cham­pi­onship in 2013. It’s per­haps a nat­u­ral ques­tion to ask; Texas, af­ter all, played so well through­out the sea­son and will lose only one player — se­nior util­ity player Sha’Dare McNeal — from this year’s ros­ter.

Out­side hit­ter Ha­ley Eck­er­man — this year’s Big 12 player of the year — will be a ju­nior. Out­side hit­ter Bai­ley Web­ster, who was last year’s con­fer­ence player of the year, will be a se­nior. Also re­turn­ing are other key parts to Texas’ ti­tle team, in­clud­ing mid­dle blocker/ out­side hit­ter Khat Bell ( ju­nior), set­ter Han­nah Al­li­son (se­nior) and libero Sarah Palmer (se­nior).

The Longhorns will get an early test when they play in the Big Four Clas­sic along with na­tional pow­ers Penn State, Stan­ford and Florida.

“We are still try­ing to en­joy this one a while be­fore we start think­ing about next year,” Bell said. “... We know we will have a solid, ex­pe­ri­enced team mov­ing for­ward and that we should be stronger from win­ning this cham­pi­onship.”

Texas, which has made it to four of the past five Fi­nal Fours, lost three times in a four-match span this Septem­ber, in­clud­ing a road loss to Penn State, the na­tion’s top pro­gram which elim­i­nated Texas in an epic cham­pi­onship match in 2009 and again in the 2010 na­tional semi­fi­nals.

But the Longhorns won 24 of their fi­nal 25 matches, win­ning 12 of 13 sets through four post­sea­son matches to get to the Fi­nal Four, then sweep­ing Ore­gon for the ti­tle.

“The bot­tom line is that my team played great all sea­son and then found a way to be at its best this sea­son when we had to be,” El­liott said. “We saved our best for last; we played about as well as we could through­out the tour­na­ment.”

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