Volleyball team focuses on big picture in final two games

Nick Castillo

As the volleyball regular season winds down and the NCAA tournament looms, No. 3 Texas (22-1, 14-1 Big 12) plans to use its last two games to secure a top seed.

The Longhorns have already secured the Big 12 Championship, their fifth title in six years and 21st in school history. Texas has also defeated two ranked opponents — No. 7 Florida and No. 13 Arizona — and toppled then-ranked Oklahoma and Kansas State.

Despite the regular season success, head coach Jerritt Elliott said he plans to use the final two games to ensure his team earns a top seed in the NCAA tournament.

“Right now, we are just working on some areas that we feel we have deficiencies in,” Elliott said. “But we have a tough schedule still — we have [TCU, then] Saturday we play Florida here, so we have some work to do. It’s going to be a lot of work to uphold our seed now. That’s what we are trying to do with the RPI.”

Currently, Texas ranks second in RPI behind undefeated Stanford. In the most recent AVCA coaches’ poll, the Longhorns find themselves third — ranked below No. 1 Stanford and No. 2 Wisconsin. If the season ended today, Texas would be a lock for a top-four seed. The Longhorns have a chance to improve their standing in the RPI against TCU on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. and against No. 7 Florida on Saturday.

Texas has already defeated both TCU and Florida this season. In its first match of the season, Texas swept the Horned Frogs to win its 34th straight home game — a streak Oklahoma ended Oct. 25. The Longhorns had a harder time getting past Florida in Gainesville, as the Gators took the match to four sets, but Texas prevailed.

“We just want to focus on how we can improve and get better every day,” said Amy Neal, junior libero and outside hitter. “In practice, we need to go hard and not let up at all because every game is going to be hard, and everyone is going to come out and play well against us.”

In its final two games, Texas will rely on Neal, as she has come back and played well after being sidelined by an injury. The Longhorns will also look to their seniors — outside hitter Haley Eckerman and middle blocker/outside hitter Khat Bell — who will play their final regular season games in burnt orange this week.  

As they look to nail down a top seed, Neal said this may be the most talented Longhorn team she has seen during her three years as a Longhorn.

“This team is really deep in talent,” Neal said. “I think that anyone on this team could be starting. Every day at practice is super competitive, and everyone is so good. I think, in the practices this year, the work ethic is at a high level.”