AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Longhorns volleyball team’s goal is simple — win another national title.
Coming off a dominant 28-1 season while playing just two matches that went to all five sets, Texas overwhelmed opponents in a variety of ways from all over the floor. However, this year is just that — another year — and the Longhorns know they’ll get everybody’s best shot because they are the reigning champs.
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“It’s a huge emotional run that it takes to win a national championship, and then we you accomplish it, it’s even more for the next 3-4 months,” Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott said. At the end of the summer, they were saying they were super excited to get back, and we’re in a good position right now.”
The storied career of Logan Eggleston came to a fitting end after the Longhorns lifted the national championship trophy, but as Elliott said, he has plenty of firepower left.
“It’s not the first time we’ve had a superstar leave the program,” Elliott said. “We’ve got plenty in the barrel to make it happen. Logan had a great career, but we’re moving on to the next year.”
The Longhorns boast two returning All-Americans, first-team middle blocker Asjia O’Neal and third-team outside hitter Madisen Skinner, plus 6-foot-5 senior opposite Molly Phillips who Elliott said has emerged as one of the team’s leaders.
O’Neal played volleyball this summer for the US National Team in the Volleyball Nations League tournament, and when she stepped into Gregory Gym for the team’s first practice, her focus was solely on burnt orange.
“We’ve got a target on our back, sure, but that’s nothing new,” O’Neal said. “I think it might be a little bigger this year, but I think we’re used to it.”
There’s no question the talent level of the Longhorns is that of a team that could win a national championship, but O’Neal said the team has to get it right from a chemistry perspective or else it’ll all fall apart.
“Talent can only get you so far,” O’Neal said, “so we’re really focusing on that team culture and making sure we bring the younger and newer girls in and continue the great culture and dynamic from last year into this year.”
Skinner was named the preseason Big 12 player of the year and returns as one of the best players in the country. She said the team checked in with each other on a weekly basis to make sure things over the summer were going well.
“Everyone is stepping into different leadership roles that we need, and you can rely on anyone at this point,” she said.
Skinner didn’t kid anyone when she was asked what the team’s goal was, but in order to win back-to-back national titles, she knows the team has to do the little things and take the necessary steps in order to bring it to fruition.
“We have to view every opportunity as a chance to get better, grow and challenge one another,” Skinner said. “We’re going to take it day by day, and once we get to our first match, we’ll focus on that opponent.”
Texas will have a freshman setter who comes in with high acclaim. Ella Swindle was the Gatorade Missouri Volleyball Player of the Year last year with AVCA All-America and Under Armour All-America honors.
Skinner, O’Neal, Phillips, Swindle and Jenna Wenaas were all named to the preseason all-Big 12 team with Swindle garnering co-freshman of the year honors. Wenaas, a Frisco native, transferred from Minnesota after playing three seasons for the Golden Gophers.
The Longhorns host a couple of exhibition matches at Gregory Gym coming up. The Orange-White scrimmage is at 3 p.m., Aug. 12, and the Longhorns welcome the Islanders of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at 6 p.m., Aug. 18. The regular season begins on the road Aug. 25 against Long Beach State. The home opener is set for Sept. 3 against Stanford.
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