Michelle Kocher

Weekend Preview

Freshman Haley Eckerman (10) rises up to block an Missouri playersÂ’ shot in a recent game. Eckerman has led No. 9 Texas to a 19-4 record.

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

The No. 9 Longhorns (19-4, 12-1 Big 12) are heading to Missouri this weekend with a lot of momentum pushing them towards a Big 12 conference victory. With just three games left in conference play, the Longhorns have definitely hit their stride and are making progress as a team. They won their eleventh straight match on Wednesday against Baylor.

As with any team there are setbacks, and this team seems to be injury prone.

But, the team doesn’t seem to be letting it bother them and players like Michelle Kocher, Madelyn Hutson and Haley Cameron are getting the opportunity to see the court.

Every player on the team can be subbed in at any time and the team doesn’t miss a step.

Hutson came into the game on Wednesday and had two kills in the second set and two assisted blocks. She was a key part in the team’s 25-19 second set victory.

Kocher, who has been impressing head coach Jerritt Elliott in practice, has earned more playing time as the season has progressed.

She came into the game in the third set and had eleven assists and helped the team hit .464 with 14 kills.

Kocher and Hutson have an impressive connection on the court that led to Hutson’s six kills on the night.

“It’s just conveying what we do in practice on the court in the games,” Hutson said. “We work hard every day, so it’s great to be able to show it.”

The rest of the Longhorns are hitting their stride. On Wednesday against Baylor, Sha’Dare McNeal had nine kills and Haley Eckerman had a team high of ten.

As the season comes to a close, no one can deny that this team is a force to be reckoned with. They face Missouri on Saturday, who they swept earlier this season.

“I like our team,” Elliott said. “I think we’re getting better. I think we’re able to make good decisions.”

Published on Friday, November 18, 2011 as: Longhorns take on Missouri, sights set on postseason run


Here are three observations from Texas’ win over Baylor.

Fresh faces come in for Texas

With the loss of Khat Bell, Gregory Gym has seen some fresh faces playing on the court. Sophomore middle blocker Haley Cameron and senior setter Michelle Kocher both played Wednesday night, and the team didn’t miss a step. Kocher had 11 assists in the game.

“They have a trust, and they compete every single day, and they understand different rules and how they go about that,” said head coach Jerritt Elliott. “We have confidence in what these players can do.”

The team is 3-0 without Khat Bell and is adjusting well to changes in their lineup.

Rachael Adams sets record

Rachael Adams sealed her name in Texas volleyball record books on Wednesday. She had her 1,300th career attack. This made her eligible for Texas’ career hitting charts.

She is now No. 1 all-time at Texas with a .429 attack percentage. She passed Brandy Magee and Lauren Paolini’s records of .373.

The senior has continually led the team and remains consistent through every game. She finished the game against Baylor with eight kills.

Allison still starting setter but Kocher plays well

In Texas’ last match against Kansas State, starting setter Hannah Allison struggled in the first set, and was replaced by Michelle Kocher.

Kocher came in and performed well, spurring Texas to a win, putting up 39 assists in the game, to Allison’s 15.

Against Baylor, Allison regained the starting role and performed well. She had 27 assists in the game, and when she was in the game, Texas’ attacking game flowed well.

However, in the third set, Kocher came in the game and also played above average ball, assisting on 11 Texas points, while showing a strong connection with outside hitter Madelyn Hutson. The battle for the setters spot will be an interesting one to watch as the season winds down, as both players are setting very solidly. 

Women's Volleyball Weekend Recap

The No. 8 Longhorns (18-4, 21-1 in Big 12) had a quartet of players with double-digit kills Saturday against Kansas State, which was more than enough as the team rolled to a four-set win over the Wildcats.

Sophomore Bailey Webster, freshman Haley Eckerman, junior Sha’Dare McNeal and senior Rachael Adams were sensational, but they attributed their strong game to setter Michelle Kocher, who came in early in the match to replace sophomore Hannah Allison.

“I think Michelle has been setting really well in practice. She just kind of had a really good demeanor about it,” said head coach Jerritt Elliott. “I felt like our rhythm wasn’t good. It didn’t have all to do with Hannah. But I just felt like I had seen some good stuff out of Michelle in the last few weeks of practice. I just felt like it could happen.”

Kocher performed well in her time on the court, placing balls well for her hitters while leading the Longhorns with 40 assists.

“I had confidence in what she could do, and I knew she would come in and do a good job for us,” Elliott said. “We have a lot of talent. That’s the great part about this team. But it’s been bigger that she’s been ready to come in and play, and play at that level.”

Printed on Monday, November 14, 2011 as: Kocher creates opportunities in win

The Longhorns have won 17 matches in a row, toppled ranked opponents in Nebraska, UCLA and Iowa State and have not lost at home since Sept. 3.

Yet somehow, fans remain a little reluctant to pack Gregory Gym.

The Longhorns’ average attendance through the season was 2,483 fans per home game, down from the 3,035 fans per game last year and 2,502 from 2007. The team’s only sold-out crowd was the last game of the season against Texas A&M. In comparison, Nebraska, which was second behind Hawaii in average attendance last year, sells out almost a game per week.

“It’s going to be a great regional,” said head coach Jerritt Elliott after the team’s victory over UCLA on Saturday. “I’m a little disappointed by the attendance tonight. Obviously, we’d like to sell this place out and we’ve done that through the years.”

Part of the lower sales this year can be attributed to the team’s slow start. Texas is seeded ninth in the tournament though ranked sixth by the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll. Last year, the team was favored to make the NCAA Championships from the beginning of the season.

Saturday’s second round playoff game had an abysmal turnout of 1,963 in the 4,000-seat Gregory Gym, despite moderate student turnout. UCLA head coach Mike Sealy admitted the noise may have gotten to some of his younger players, especially when Texas went on two six-point runs in the third set.

With the NCAA Regionals in Austin, the team could use help from the crowd as it faces eighth-seeded Illinois on Friday and could face top-seeded Florida on Saturday.

“We need the city of Austin to come out and support us. We’ve got to have a big crowd,” Elliott said. “It’s going to be some fun volleyball. We need to pack this place and represent the University of Texas well.

A tale of two setters

One could make the argument that the biggest battle for setters Hannah Allison and Michelle Kocher happens in the practice gym.

The duo, while constantly competing for a starting spot, remains forever supportive of each other. Allison, a freshman from Siloam Springs, Ark., is the taller and more athletic of the two, making her one of the best blocking setters the Longhorns have had in several years. Kocher, a junior from Wheaton, Ill., and the team’s assistant co-captain, is the more experienced and fundamentally sound. She is also a better backline player, consistently putting up near double-digit digs.

Allison won the starting spot to begin the season but went down with an ankle injury in mid-October. Kocher stepped in, and the team has not lost since.

The UCLA match featured a little bit of both setters. Elliott inserted Allison in the game in the third set, which almost immediately sparked a turnaround. Elliott described Allison as a “gamer” whose competitiveness brings the best out of her in tight situations.

Meanwhile, Kocher’s technical proficiency and high IQ allows her to make the most out of errant passes on a team that has struggled in that area. Both setters finished with 24 assists in the match.

Assistant coach Salima Rockwell, who was an All-American setter back in her playing days at Penn State and on the U.S. National Team, said having both setters is a major boon for the team.

“I think it’s awesome,” Rockwell said. “They constantly push each other, and both sides of the net in practice are really good. It’s a huge advantage for our program on having two great setters in any given point. One can sub in for the other. We could flip into a 6-2. It just gives us so many options.”

Ya dig?

In the press conference following his team’s loss to Texas on Saturday, UCLA head coach Mike Sealy pointed to Texas’ ball control as a weaker point in the Longhorns’ arsenal.

Elliott has repeatedly said improved passing, the serve-receive game and confidence are the biggest differences between the beginning of the year and now.

Texas’ weakness likely has less to do with inability and more to do with a lack of experience. True freshman libero Sarah Palmer was thrust into the fire after junior Sydney Yogi’s injury. Palmer, who was just coming off of an injury herself when she started donning the black jersey, has had to learn a lot on the job.

Sophomore utility player Sha’Dare McNeal and junior Amber Roberson are both first-time starters. McNeal was converted from a middle blocker to a backline player over the spring. Both players had relatively little back row experience before coming to Texas.

While passing and ball control have not cost the Longhorns a match, it may prove to be a challenge against more physical teams such as Nebraska in the coming matches.

The year of the ACL

While studies show that female athletes are eight times more likely to injure their ACL than male athletes and knee injuries are the second most common type of injury in volleyball, the unprecedented number of ACL tears in this year’s volleyball season has coaches scrapping playbooks, scratching heads and re-adjusting.

The trend started in the spring when Penn State lost its sophomore outside hitter phenom Darcy Dorton. The Longhorns lost sophomore outside hitter and assistant co-captain Bailey Webster a little more than a week before the season started.

Among Texas’ opponents, UCLA lost junior middle blocker Katie Camp last month and Illinois lost freshman middle blocker Anna Dorn at the beginning of the season. Perhaps the bigger concern for the Illini is the loss of senior All-American outside hitter Laura DeBruler in mid-October, who torched the Longhorns for 17 kills in their earlier matchup.

Other teams in the tournament that have had to make adjustments for ACL tears include Creighton, Mississippi and North Carolina.

Kocher connection

As the Longhorns prepare to battle it out against Illinois on Friday, they will need to find a way to slow down the Fighting Illini’s junior outside hitter Colleen Ward. Ward has taken over the reins of the team and put up 27 kills and 15 digs in the team’s second round matchup against Cincinnati.

Kocher knows that better than anyone, teaming up with Ward on a club team when the two were in high school.

“[Ward] is a really talented player,” Kocher said earlier this year. “I loved playing with her the couple of years I got a chance to, and I played against her in high school, so I know what it feels like to receive one of her hits. She’s just an all-around player and I’m excited to see how she does.”

Conference breakdowns

Three conferences dominate the Sweet 16. The Pac-10 has four representatives in Stanford, USC, Cal and Washington. The Big 12 is also surprisingly well represented with Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Missouri all advancing.

The Big Ten wins the power conference award, as it boasts Penn State, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio State and Purdue. The final two teams are Florida (SEC) and Duke (ACC). 

While the expectations for Texas heading into the NCAA tournament are lower than in previous years, the Longhorns will be heavy favorites tonight when they face UTSA in the first round.

It’s the quintessential David vs. Goliath storyline, with big bad Texas taking on its little sibling from San Antonio.

But the No. 6 Longhorns aren’t looking past the underdog Roadrunners. Head coach Jerritt Elliott has downplayed talk of a possible rematch with No. 14 Illinois — a team that swept Texas in Austin back in September — in the Sweet 16.

“We have to take care of UTSA in the first round, they’re a good opponent. But we need to get our rhythm going and play well,” Elliott said. “That’s our focus point now. We have to ensure we are one of the teams that gets to the regional next weekend.”

But the Longhorns (23-5; 18-2 Big 12) still have Juliann Faucette, the Big 12 Player of the Year, on their side and the senior outside hitter has picked up her performance leading up to the Big Dance.

“Juliann has played really well the last two months,” Elliott said. “She’s found a great rhythm, her confidence is the highest it’s ever been since she’s been with this program and she’s carrying a big load for us.”

The award is the culmination of four long years of hard work by Faucette, something that has not gone unnoticed by her teammates. As junior setter Michelle Kocher puts it, the team feeds off her dedication.

“It’s what she deserves, she’s one of the hardest working players,” Kocher said. “She’ll come in early and even despite all the accolades she gets, you wouldn’t know that by the way she practices every day. She deserves it.”

And with two players on the All-Big 12 first team — Faucette and junior middle blocker Rachael Adams — the Longhorns have big-time talent and are poised to make some noise in the tournament.

“We’re one of the teams that can contend for the Final Four,” Elliott said. “It’s going to be tough from the second round on.”

But before Texas makes any travel plans for the finals in Kansas City, they have to avoid a major letdown against the 22-11 Roadrunners.

“Our program has done really well in the past of just taking things one game at a time,” Kocher said.

The road to the Final Four goes through Austin, and it’s up to the Longhorns to protect the home court advantage one set at a time.  

Juliann Faucette would not let Texas’ eight-match win streak come to an end Saturday. The senior All-American outside hitter put the Longhorns on her shoulders and carried the team with a career-high 28 kills as Texas downed Oklahoma 3-1 Saturday to remain unbeaten in the last nine contests.

Faucette’s outburst did not catch Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott off guard. He said he could feel something brewing in the senior leader before the opening serve, and Faucette was not going to allow the rival Sooners stop No. 8 Texas (17-5; 12-2 Big 12).

“She had a different look in her eyes; she was really focused and really loud in the locker room before the game,” Elliott said. “I could tell there was a different energy and focus about her. She pretty much carried the team tonight. When she is playing that hot, it’s really nice to have that on your side.”

Faucette had four straight kills in the decisive fourth set that kept the Sooners from forcing a fifth and final set, and sophomore opposite hitter Sha’Dare McNeal put the game in the books, following Faucette’s four-straight with a kill of her own to dispatch Oklahoma (17-8, 9-5).

But Faucette was quick to point out junior setter Michelle Kocher’s role in ensuring quality attacks for the All-American.

“I was just motivated and Kocher was setting a great ball,” Faucette said. “I was just feeling the fire, and it was easy to get a good kill with those sets from Kocher.”

“With a lot of the injuries that we have going on, I had to take a lot more of a load and I think that it’s been good for me.”

Three other Longhorns finished with double-digit kills to balance out Texas’ attack, and McNeal added nine kills of her own.

Texas remained a game and a half behind Nebraska in the Big 12 standings and the Longhorns will look to extend their winning-streak to a season-high 10 matches on the road Wednesday against Baylor at 7 p.m.

Texas has not tasted defeat since an Oct 2. trip to Nebraska and the team has a favorable schedule for the season’s final six matches, with three games remaining at home.

The Longhorns swept Baylor earlier this season at Gregory Gym and have won the last 17 meetings.

When freshman setter Hannah Allison went down, the Longhorns spent very little time in a panic. After all, junior setter Michelle Kocher — the team’s “backup” — may be one of the best setters in the conference, regardless of whether she is starting or not.

Kocher’s tenure at Texas has been nothing short of unconventional. The Wheaton, Ill.-native came to the 40 Acres at the heels of the departure of All-American and Texas’ all-time assists leader Michelle Moriarty. Kocher stepped right in and delivered, starting 31 out of 33 games and garnering Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors.

In last year’s championship runner-up season, Kocher was asked to step down as the lone setter and split time with former Longhorn and All-American Ashley Engle. Head coach Jerritt Elliott often employed a two-setter rotation, so Kocher still saw time on the court.
This season started off differently as Kocher, despite being named the team’s assistant co-captain, started off on the bench, as the team opted for a 5-1 rotation with Allison as the setter.

Kocher mostly played at the end of blowout matches.

Kocher got the starting nod against Texas Tech after Allison went down with an injury, and the Longhorns have not looked back. The team has dropped one set in going 5-0, including an upset of then-second-ranked Nebraska at home, in which Cornhuskers head coach John Cook credited Kocher as the primary difference between the Longhorns’ win in Austin and their loss in Lincoln.

Junior outside hitter Amber Roberson and senior middle blocker Jennifer Doris have seen major statistical increases in kills and hitting percentage. Kocher, who along with her assists nearly averages double-digit digs, said it has been an interesting ride.

“It’s been a rollercoaster experience, but in the same aspect, I’m in the gym every day, so in my eyes, it hasn’t totally affected how I’ve played because every day you’ve still got to put in the time, put in the effort,” said Kocher, who won Big 12 Player of the Week accolades two weeks ago. “I’m still a part of the team whether I’m on the court or not.It’s been different, but fun.”

The Silver Cloud of Injuries

While battling with injuries played a part in the Longhorns’ early-season struggles with consistency and continuity, they have also made some tough coaching decisions easier.

The team has fought its way back to a top-10 ranking despite many of its top players recovering, which serves as an indication of Texas’ depth.
“It’s easy, we stay the same,” Elliott said on maintaining continuity. “We don’t have any other options. Who we have is what we have right now, so I really can’t mess up the lineup right now.”

At the conclusion of the season, the Longhorns will have to part ways with Doris and senior outside hitters Juliann Faucette and Lauren Dickson. But the team will also be welcoming back Allison, junior libero Sydney Yogi, freshman outside hitter Ashley Bannister and sophomore outside hitter Bailey Webster. Throw in the incoming freshmen class and other role players, and the sheer numbers will likely lead to competitive position battles.
With the rest of the season and a potentially-deep playoff run still ahead for the team, it may be too early to be thinking about next season.

Longhorns Statistically in the Conference

With powerful hitting backing the Longhorns’ current eight-game winning streak, the team leads the conference in hitting percentage (.293) and fourth in kills per set (13.6). It also stands second in blocks per set and service aces per set.

Among individuals, Texas’ pair of middle blockers are first and third respectively in hitting percentage with Doris at .439 and junior Rachael Adams at .435. Facette is the team’s top point scorer, averaging 3.81 points per set, which is seventh in the conference.

As Texas travels to Colorado on Saturday, the team will look to build off a huge win at home over No. 2 Nebraska on Wednesday. The Longhorns have won seven straight matches and 10 of the last 11, including seven sweeps — dropping only six sets during their hot streak.

The turnaround came after the low point in the season when Texas lost three straight matches and sat at 5-4. Head coach Jerritt Elliott shuffled his lineup because of numerous injuries and the Longhorns (15-5; 9-2 Big 12) have since taken off.

“We are playing more confident than we were,” Elliott said. “This team has come out and learned how to fight individually, they’ve learned how to fight as a team, they’ve gained confidence and learned a lot about themselves and that’s a big key to our success. The difference is now the starters have to perform well because we don’t have the luxury of subbing people in and out.”

Junior setter Michelle Kocher is the latest Longhorn to have her number called after spending the majority of the year backing up freshman Hannah Allison.Kocher has stepped in and immediately contributed.

“The girls that have stepped in have done a phenomenal job, we haven’t missed a beat,” Elliott said. “They’ve built a lot of trust and they’re competing. As a coach, it makes it fun to show up to the gym and get after it.”

But the Longhorns began the year as one of the deepest teams in the nation and have shown the importance of having a talented bench.

“We understand that if someone goes down, there are people there to step up, and they have,” Kocher said. “When people have had their opportunities they’ve really come out and shined. We’re all talented enough to take care of business.”

Senior middle blocker Jennifer Doris has been around long enough to grasp the talent level of her teammates wearing orange and white.

“Everyone on our team could start and play anywhere,” Doris said. “People have stepped up, but that’s part of being an athlete here at Texas, you never know when your number is going to be called.”

Texas and Colorado face off at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Boulder.