Defense plays key role in emergence of the Longhorns

Steve Helwick

The best defense is a good offense — but not for Texas. Defense wins championships.

It’s a mantra attributed to renowned college football coach Bear Bryant, but often applied to every sport. Statisticians regularly test the statement. But for head coach Jerritt Elliott, defense is the key to building a championship-caliber team in Austin.

The No. 4 Longhorns (10-2, 2-0 Big 12) are coming off their second Big 12 victory over a quality opponent in No. 8 Kansas. Texas won in four sets, with definitive victories in the second and fourth sets of the game. Despite earning Texas’ strongest win this season, Elliott saw holes in his team’s defense — holes in need of fixing.

“We’re continuously growing,” Elliott said. “For us right now, the big thing is our defense. Our numbers that we’re hitting are some of the best we’ve had ever here at Texas. But our defensive numbers aren’t as good.”

Digs, one of the most indicative statistics of defensive success in volleyball, are crucial to counterattack spikes and save balls from hitting the ground. Although Texas boasts a top-5 ranking in the AVCA Coaches poll, they rank No. 263 in the nation for digs with 13.05 per set.

“When they’re getting first-ball kills and tools and missed digs, it gets a little bit more challenging for us to put up some runs,” Elliott said.

Defense may not be Texas’ strongest proficiency on the court, but its offense stands among the nation’s elite. Led by their outside hitters, the Longhorns rank No. 20 in kills per set and No. 4 in hitting percentage nationally out of 329 programs. 

Junior Ebony Nwanebu and freshman Micaya White rank No. 23 and No. 20, respectively, in kills per set. The duo propels Texas’ offense with dominant net play and gels with the precise passing of senior setter Chloe Collins, who ranks No. 9 in assists with 11.46 per set. Texas scores nearly half of its points off assists, a testament to the offense’s strong chemistry.

“Chloe just kind of pumps me up,” White said. “She gets me so excited after every kill and so having her cheering me on and encouraging me gets me more fired up.”

Texas’ offensive production suggests the team has the potential to make yet another splash in the postseason. But Elliott still needs to sure up his defense if the team hopes to make another run in the tournament. 

The Longhorns’ next chance to work on its defense comes against Oklahoma on Wednesday.