NORMAN — Top-ranked Texas has all but one starter back from last year’s national championship volleyball team, and Jerritt Elliott says his roster is the deepest it has been in his 13 years at the school.
But the 2012 national coach of the year isn’t ready to make travel plans for a fifth appearance in six years in the NCAA final four.
That’s because the top challengers to Texas also return a bevy of talent. In fact, 10 of the 14 players who were first-team All-Americans are back.
“It’s going to be a very competitive year in terms of getting to that point where you can be a final four team,” Elliott said Wednesday. “Last year was a young year. It ebbs and flows. Sometimes you have a real senior-based talented group (nationally), and I think that’s the case right now.”
Penn State coach Russ Rose, whose program won four straight national titles from 2007-10, said the pool of potential champions is becoming deeper.
“Each year it gets harder and harder because there’s more parity with the fact that people are getting better at coaching, players are getting better at playing and you have these 25-point (rally scoring) games,” Rose said.
Returning All-Americans Haley Eckerman and Bailey Webster are the headliners for a Texas team that hit a nation-leading .325 last season and won 23 of its last 24 matches, including a 3-0 sweep of Oregon in the NCAA final.
Second-ranked Penn State lost no starters from the team that made it to the semifinals. The Nittany Lions are led by All-Americans Ariel Scott and Micha Hancock.
Every starter also is back at No. 3 Stanford. Carly Wopat was an All-American for the Cardinal, and Inky Ajanaku, Jordan Burgess and Brittany Howard won postseason honors as freshmen.