Fast starts instrumental to Texas’ success

Steve Helwick

The announcement of the starting lineups rings throughout the arena. Each Longhorn assumes her position on the court to begin the match. 

And after the first serve, it doesn’t take long for Texas to find a rhythm.

Fast starts have been critical for Texas in 2016. The No. 3 Longhorns (5-1) have molded their victories from controlling the first two sets of their matches. Texas has claimed the first and second sets in five of its first six games this season.

The exception came in the team’s sole loss to No. 1 Nebraska. The team fell 3-0, and failing to gain early momentum ultimately impeded the Longhorns from maintaining an undefeated record.

“We continue to grow and use that [Nebraska] loss as a boost to why we need to keep getting better,” freshman outside hitter Micaya White said.

Although Texas has secured the first two sets in every other match, keeping the foot on the pedal was an issue in its earliest victories.

In games against Oregon and Lipscomb, the Longhorns jumped to 2–0 leads before falling in the third set. But despite a 3–3 record in third sets this season, the Longhorns have concluded every victory in a maximum of four sets.

“This time of the year is about trying to find your rhythm a little bit,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “It’s not always smooth.”

The Longhorns are starting to find that rhythm. The issues finishing matches peaked in Texas’ first three competitions, but during a four-game homestand this past weekend, the Longhorns began sweeping
their opponents. 

In three straight matches in the American Campus Classic at Gregory Gymnasium, Texas defeated its opponent in three sets. With each win, the margin of victory increased.

Against UTSA, Texas had a plus-eight for the match. The value increased to a plus-20 in the Army match and to plus-29 in the sweep over Miami. In the match against Miami, Texas rocked the Hurricanes 25-10 in the third set — the greatest margin of victory this season.

Texas began the 2016 season with growing pains caused by the departure of an esteemed senior class and the absence of outside hitter Chiaka Ogbogu, a two-time All-American.

Ogbogu left the team in August for academic reasons, but plans to return for the 2017 season.

“She’s a big loss,” Elliott said. “Emotionally, we talked to our captains and we talked to our team. In sports, you don’t have time to look back and say ‘what if.’ We know she’ll be back, and we still have a good enough team to win a national championship.”

Creating immediate success in the first sets remains a key focus for the Longhorns. Fast starts can be the tipping point in a match — they have been in Texas’ five victories — and can alleviate the pressure of
playing from behind.

“Right now it’s so much about our side of the net,” Elliott said. “Just trying to get used to our system, planning and scheming and how to go about that process.”