Career weekend from Pilar Victoria leads Longhorns to season-opening sweep

Jacob Martella

The 2014 season has already started well for Pilar Victoria. 

The sophomore outside hitter led the Longhorns in kills in two of the three Lobo Classic matches and took home MVP honors as No. 2 Texas opened up its season with three straight wins.

“I’m obviously really excited about the results of the weekend,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We got to look at a lot of players and see how they performed in a live situation.”

The strong weekend for Victoria began early, as she gave Texas a 1-0 lead in its first set against UTEP on Friday morning. The Longhorns went on to win the set 25-23, the closest set of the weekend, and then jumped out to an early 8-3 lead in the second set, thanks in part to back-to-back kills by Victoria. She finished the match with a career-high 14 kills in the win.

In the nightcap against New Mexico, Victoria carried over her momentum, bookending the first set with kills. She struggled in the second set with three straight shots that were blocked by the Lobos. However, she bounced back with four kills in the third set as Texas finished off the sweep.

Victoria didn’t have quite the same success Saturday against Seattle, but junior outside hitter Amy Neal and junior middle blocker Sara Hattis each had a career match to help the Longhorns to another sweep and the Lobo Classic title. Neal posted a career-high 11 kills and Hattis had nine blocks in her homecoming to New Mexico.

Victoria finished the tournament with a team-high 32 kills, as well as 23 digs. Coming off a freshman campaign in which she had 60 kills and a .250 hitting percentage, Victoria said she’s already feeling better about this season.

“I feel more comfortable and more trust for my teammates and coaches,” Victoria said. “I am seeing things from a different perspective than I did my freshman year.”

In addition to winning the MVP award for the tournament, Victoria was also named to the All-Tournament team, along with Neal and sophomore utility player Nicole Dalton, who is coming off a medical redshirt last year following right hip surgery.

With a stacked roster this year, Elliott was glad to see the younger players perform from the start.

“It’s great when you get to see the younger players helping develop our program like [Victoria and Neal],” Elliott said. “They are playing at a high level and it shows that we have a lot of talent and potential as a team.”

The Longhorns averaged a nine-point margin victory across all nine sets and outhit their opponents .331 to .075.

Texas travels to Gainesville to face Florida on Saturday before opening up its home schedule with the Longhorn Classic next weekend.