Longhorns escape Jayhawks in thrilling victory

Michael Shapiro

The Longhorns were up 14-9 in the fifth set when senior outside hitter Amy Neal stepped up to serve. Kansas fans rose to their feet as Neal prepared.

Kansas returned, and, following a set by junior setter Chloe Collins, senior middle blocker Molly McCage recorded the evening’s final kill. As the ball fell to the floor, the No. 5 Longhorns celebrated at mid-court and left Lawrence with a 3-2 win over Kansas and a strong grasp on first place in the Big 12. 

“It’s a tough environment to play in,” Elliott said. “Both teams had only one conference loss this year. We knew it was going to be tight.”

In its biggest match of the season, it was the Texas (21-2, 11-1 Big 12) seniors who came through in the fifth set. The Longhorns recorded seven kills in the final set, with five of them coming from seniors Neal and middle blocker Molly McCage. 

“They were both very aggressive,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “They’ve been in spots like that before and they kept swinging and coming up with big points for us.”

The match was a tug of war throughout, with the two teams trading leads throughout each of the five sets and splitting the first two sets.

Texas took a 2-1 lead after an 30-28 third set victory highlighted by five kills from junior outside hitter Paulina Prieto Cerame. The set followed a frenetic pace throughout, with both teams scrambling to recover after each smash over the net. 

But any momentum garnered from the third-set thriller quickly faded as Texas dropped the fourth set 25-22. The stage was set for the fantastic finish in the biggest match of the Longhorns season. 

After the Longhorns closed out the match’s final set, they boarded the team bus elated but not satisfied. Texas is now in first place in the conference, but with four matches to play, nothing is settled in the Big 12.

“We still have work to do,” Elliott said. “We have the hardest schedule left in the conference and we need to win out.”