Tough matches still to come on the road for Texas volleyball

Matt Warden

After knocking off the top two teams in the country, the road for Texas holds more challenge this weekend.  

The second-ranked Longhorns will travel to Illinois to take on Arizona State and No. 14 Illinois. Despite a climb back up the rankings, the Longhorns still have no room for relaxation.

“Our focus is making sure the team does not have big heads and think they are ‘all that,’” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We have got to get back, ready to battle because both teams that we are competing against this weekend are more than ready for us.”

Although this year’s temperament is different from last season’s national championship team, it shows an ability to thrive in the clutch with a five-set win over Penn State and a four-set victory over Stanford. One-hundred and two kills combined in those matches verifies the potency of the Texas offense, but changes need to be made to sustain that level of play.

“Both of those games could have gone either way,” sophomore Amy Neal said. “There are some areas in the game that we still need to work on because clearly we were a little rough at times, but it helps our confidence knowing we can be really good.”

The gray areas in the Longhorns’ success last weekend were plays at the net and their defense on the middle of the floor. Stanford tallied eight blocks to seven for Texas, which snapped the team’s streak of three-consecutive matches of out blocking opponents.

Similar to the third set against Penn State, the second set against Stanford saw Texas surrender 18 kills while being outhit .273 to .146. The rowdy environment at Gregory Gym did a lot to help Texas shake off slow starts, but that luxury will be absent this weekend.

“We just have to keep up our energy and keep that focus level,” sophomore Molly McCage said. “When we’re put in stressful environments, we can still come out of it with a win.”

All negatives aside, the Longhorns should carry an abundance of confidence into this weekend’s matches.

Haley Eckerman, the 2012 Player of the Year, and Bailey Webster continue to buoy the Texas attack, already amassing 58 and 61 total kills respectively. Young players such as Neal, with her 25 kills, and freshman Chloe Collins, who holds a team-high 98 assists, have given the team a needed boost to push toward another
successful season.

Three of the Longhorns’ five matches this season have come against ranked opponents, and the Fighting Illini bring the same challenge at home in Urbana-Champagne, Ill. Texas has outhit its opponents .239 to .234 thus far, which tells the tale of competition.

If Texas can continue its relentless attack this weekend, its chances at claiming another NCAA title become more convincing.