Texas volleyball coach Jerritt Elliott is a tinkerer, whether it involves practice schedules, lineups or plays used by his fifth-ranked squad, the defending national champion.
His approach keeps the Longhorns on their toes, and Texas’ top-to-bottom talent gives him freedom to experiment that other coaches don’t have. The Longhorns didn’t establish a set lineup in their first nine matches, seven of which were against teams currently ranked in the Top 25.
Elliott will continue to fiddle with the Horns’ attack when Texas resumes Big 12 play against Oklahoma at 3 p.m. Saturday in Gregory Gym. The Longhorns (7-2, 1-0) opened league play Wednesday with a sweep of TCU in Fort Worth.
The most daring of Elliott’s moves this season might have been platooning his two setters, using a 6-2 lineup while watching for situations and matchups to keep senior Hannah Allison or freshman Chloe Collins in the game.
“It’s my job to manage my players and find out what they can do and where they can help us the most,” Elliott said. “The players understand what I am doing and that nothing is set in stone. We are still evaluating the setters, and they are both very talented. We are going to need both of them to continue to be as successful as we want to be.”
Given Allison’s experience and the fact that she was the “quarterback” for the Texas team that won an NCAA championship in 2012, changing the formula that brought the Horns such success was a bit of a gamble.
Allison became the eighth player in Texas history to surpass the 3,000 career assist mark in the Longhorns’ five-set win against Nebraska on Sept. 22, and she’s started every match for which she’s been healthy since 2010.
“I have been playing all the way around for the past three years so (the platooning) is a bit of adjustment,” Allison said. “I’ve only been on the court about half the time, and there are some positives about that, but I have missed playing on the front row and blocking.”
Of the two setters, Allison is a bigger and better blocker and is used to set the ball higher to Texas’ powerful hitters. Collins is faster defensively and can run down balls more easily. She stands more upright when she sets and is very fast and adept with her left hand, enabling her to dump the ball over the net quickly rather than pushing it to one of the hitters.
“We are still going through different lineups, still trying to find the team chemistry coach Elliott wants from us,” Collins said. “It has meant a lot to me to be able to get on the court as a freshman and contribute to the success of the team. We all want to win.”
The tricky part for Elliott is making the rotations as seamless as possible and not allowing the setters’ different styles to disrupt the Longhorns’ play. In the Big 12 Conference opener against TCU, Allison played every point for the first time this season.
“As a leader on the team, I understand that there is a role for all of us and we all have to give a little to be successful; to me, it’s the winning that’s most important,” Allison said.