Texas battles Iowa State Saturday night

Steve Helwick

After a week off, the Longhorns return to action Saturday night.

Texas (12–2, 4–0 Big 12) holds a four-game winning streak entering its battle with Iowa State in Austin. Meanwhile, the Cyclones (8–7, 1–3 Big 12) have struggled in conference play, losing three out of four contests.

Still, the Longhorns know they will be tested by any team in their conference.

“The Big 12 right now is probably the best it’s been in a couple years,” junior outside hitter Ebony Nwanebu said. “[Head coach] Jerritt Elliott says it’s good to be tested, because when you get the postseason, you’re going to be tested every single night.” 

Since 2013, the Longhorns have triumphed in 18 of their last 22 sets against the Cyclones. In last year’s meetings, Texas swept Iowa State on both occasions.

Texas is 6–1 at home this year, recovering from its sole home loss to Wisconsin in mid-September. 

Freshman outside hitter Micaya White headlines the Longhorns’ recent efforts. The Big 12 named White Freshman of the Week for the fourth time in five weeks on Monday, making her the first Longhorn to earn the award four times since Haley Eckerman in 2011.

The freshman leads a powerful group of outside hitters. She ranks third in the Big 12, averaging 4.51 kills per set in 2016, while Nwanebu follows with 4.24 kills per set. Senior Paulina Prieto Cerame has also excelled at the net with 3.5 kills per set.

“Me and [White] had a lot of conversations last year about just being patient,” Nwanebu said. “Finally getting to apply that is very rewarding for us.” 

Texas looks to slow down Iowa State sophomore outside hitter Jess Schaben. The 2015 All-Big 12 Second Team member posted a season-high 26 kills against West Virginia, driving the Cyclones to their lone conference victory.

Junior libero Cat McCoy will lead the effort to contain Schaben. McCoy has posted double-digit digs in 11 consecutive matches — and 13 out of 14 on the season. She replicated her season high twice, earning 19 digs against Wichita State and Wisconsin.

But the Cyclones hold a sizable advantage in digs. Iowa State ranks first in the conference with 16.67 per set, while the Longhorns sit in the conference’s cellar, registering 13.17 per set. 

The match’s first serve is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Gregory Gym on Saturday, starting a six-game home stand of 7 p.m. tip-offs. With a victory, Texas can begin Big 12 play 5–0 for the fifth consecutive year. 

“All the Big 12 schools right now are rolling,” Nwanebu said. “It’s a fun time to play in [the conference].”