No. 4 Southern California has six returning starters plus two-time first-team All-American Natalie Hagglund at libero. The Women of Troy also bring back Pac-12 freshman of the year Samantha Bricio.
Fifth-ranked Washington returns all but one starter and hopes to still be playing when Seattle hosts the NCAA championships for the first time Dec. 19 and 21.
“It’s just human nature, that here we are in our backyard and there is a little bit more incentive,” Huskies coach Jim McLaughlin said. “Over the years we’ve wanted to be the best we can be, develop and try to get to every final four. But yeah, for sure, it would be great to do it in our home city.”
Texas’ Elliott has built a schedule that provides early tests. Of the Longhorns’ first eight matches, four are against opponents ranked among the top 11 in the coaches’ poll.
“Last year people wanted to beat us because we were Texas, so regardless they bought their ‘A’ game, especially on the road,” Webster said. “But this year, people will want to beat us because we are Texas and because we won the national championship. We will embrace that and are excited to play each team.”
The Longhorns open Aug. 31 at No. 11 Hawaii, which has won 71 of its last 76 home matches. The next week they return home to play No. 2 Penn State and No. 3 Stanford.
“I told our team in our first meeting that I set up a schedule that will give us a chance to take some losses, and I’m OK with taking some losses early if we’re competing at a high level and working on things we need to do,” Elliott said. “I’m not looking to try to go undefeated on the season.”