Elliott picks up 300th win as Texas splits weekend pair

Evan Berkowitz

Head coach Jerritt Elliott picked up his 350th career win and 300th since arriving at Texas after splitting a pair of matches at the State Farm Classic in Champaign, Ill.

In their first game after the team’s victories over No. 1 Penn State and No. 2 Stanford at home, Texas dropped a match in straight sets to un-ranked Arizona State. The Sun Devils (8-1) withstood 21 kills from junior outside Haley Eckerman as they used three big runs in three games to down the No. 2 Longhorns.

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

But the Longhorns were unable to even take a game against a good, but less-talented Arizona State squad who dropped their first match of the season hours before to No. 14 Illinois. The Longhorns had 16 hitting errors and seven service errors, hurting them in the defeat.

The Sun Devils won 18-25, 23-25 and 21-25.

But just as they have all season, the Longhorns responded in the tournament capper, knocking off Illinois in five sets (25-23, 23-25, 25-13, 24-26, 15-11) as freshman Chiaka Ogbogo came up big in her Longhorn debut, providing a spark to compliment the proven veteran Eckerman’s steady game.

Ogbogo started the Longhorns off strong in the deciding fifth set, getting a kill and a block to push the Texas lead to 5-2, but the Longhorns wouldn’t surrender winning 15-11.

It was Eckerman who carried the Longhorns, though, showing why she is a favorite for the National Player of the Year. She tallied a season-high 23 kills (giving her 44 for the weekend).

Bailey Webster posted 17 kills of her own, backing up why Elliott believes he has the best outside hitters in the nation.

“We got a unique situation with two of the best outsides in the country,” Elliott said after last week after defeating Stanford.

In game one, the Longhorns rallied on a string of Illinois errors, to overcome a four-point deficit and tie the game at 13. In a game that saw 11 ties, Webster finally gave Texas the win with a pair of kills.

In game two, though, it was Texas who surrendered the lead, losing after being up 19-15. The next two games weren’t as close as Texas and Illinois built comfortable early leads to send the match to the fifth set, which Texas ultimately won.

The Longhorns finish their tough non-conference schedule Sunday against No. 12 Nebraska.

“We weren’t going to go undefeated with the games I scheduled,” Elliott said at a Wednesday press conference. “The important thing I’m taking away from this is trying to get our team ready for the Big 12 and get back to the Final Four.”