Neal spurs Longhorns to victory over Bears

Michael Shapiro

The No. 5 Longhorns came into Wednesday’s match with Baylor poised to keep their stronghold on the conference after a week during which they took down Big 12 rivals Kansas and Iowa State on the road. 

Head coach Jerritt Elliott didn’t want his team to suffer a letdown akin to the Longhorns 3-0 loss to TCU on Oct. 28, so the 15-year coach had a pregame trick up his sleeve. 

“We showed a motivational video,” Elliott said. “Sometimes you got to change it up for them a little bit to give the team some things to think about.” 

It seemed to work against the Bears, as Texas (23-2, 13-1 Big 12) played three solid sets en route to a 3-0 victory at Gregory Gym. It was the Longhorns’ 17th sweep on the season. 

The match’s first set was a back and forth affair. Neither team stretched the lead to more than four points until a thunderous ace by senior outside hitter Amy Neal gave Texas a 25-20 first set victory. Neal said she established a good flow with junior setter Chloe Collins, which helped her rack up 13 kills and three aces on the night.  “I got into a good rhythm with Chloe,” Neal said. “The coaches told me to get to the ball quickly and open up the net which helped.”

The Longhorns overpowered Baylor throughout set two. In the 25-18 victory, six different Longhorns had a kill as Texas accumulated 14 for the set. Neal had six kills in the second set as Texas exhibited one of its finest offensive performances of the season.

With the match firmly in their hands, the Longhorns didn’t let up in the third set opening with a 5-1 run. Texas has become accustomed to holding big leads and Wednesday was no different. Baylor made it close in the third frame,  but Texas eventually won the set 25-21 and the match 3-0.  Junior outside hitter Paula Prieto Cerame added 10 kills in additon to Neal’s 13. 

“We played well enough to win tonight,” Elliott said. “We played well in spurts, and came through when we needed some points.”

Texas’ next match comes on Saturday against unranked Kansas State at Gregory Gym. The Longhorns hold a one-game lead over second place Kansas, with just two matches left in the regular season. But  Elliott knows that nothing is certain in the Big 12.

“Right now my focus is getting them ready for Kansas State,” Elliott said. “They’re focused and good enough competitors here to be ready to play.”