Texas looks to begin conference play on the right foot

Chris Hummer

The Longhorns have had themselves an eventful non-conference season.

They started out with a pair of wins in the Burnt Orange Classic, but went on to lose three straight games to top 10 teams — twice to No. 9 Minnesota and once to No. 6 Florida.

But then No. 8 Texas (7-3) rebounded with five straight wins, including a tremendous victory against No. 5 Penn State, the team that knocked it out of the NCAA tournament the last two years.

Now the team gets the opportunity to put that inconsistency to rest as it enters Big 12 play and looks to win its fourth Big 12 title in the last five years.

Texas has a much easier road to a title this year, as Nebraska — historically, its biggest nemesis — is now a part of the Big 10. But even with the Cornhuskers’ departure, there will be no letting up.

“There is no change in terms of our goals of trying to win the Big 12 and to continue to develop and try to win every match,” said Texas head coach Jerritt Elliot. “That’s challenging in such a tough conference, but we’re looking forward to the opportunity on Saturday.”

The team is playing well right now, with the mix of youth and experience coming together to form a great blend. That being said, they’re still improving and hope the time spent on the Big 12 battleground will help them.

“We’re really pleased where we’re at right now, but we’re growing,” Elliot said. “We’re a project in the making but we’re developing and we’re building trust.”

Texas starts out its Big 12 schedule with a Kansas team that is very different than the past versions of the Jayhawks, with whom Texas has an all-time record of 29-4.

“This is a different Kansas team than we’re used to in the past. They are 11-1, they beat Minnesota, who we lost to twice, and their only loss is to Northern Iowa in five games, so they’re very strong,” Elliott said. “It will be a really good challenge for us at this time.”

The Kansas game is the first test in a tough opening two weeks for the Longhorns, where they will face arguably the four best teams in the conference in one long stretch.

“Our first four matches in the Big 12 are really going to tell us where we stand in the conference. We play Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma and A&M,” Elliott said. “Those are probably the top four teams in the Big 12.”

But those games are in the future and the only thing the team is worried about right now is the Jayhawks. The game is at home for the Longhorns, which bodes well for them as they are riding a 20-match winning streak in Gregory.

“We hope Gregory’s really full when we play on Saturday,” Elliot said. “When it’s full and loud it helps us out tremendously.”

Printed on Friday, September 23, 2011 as: "Longhorns on rebound after shaky start to season."