Texas still looks for defensive identity against Baylor

Leah Vann

After a near upset against Iowa State, Texas (13–2, 5–0 Big 12) will travel north on I-35 to take on Baylor (15–5, 3–1 Big 12) in Waco on Wednesday.

The Longhorns hope to keep their Big 12 winning streak alive, but head coach Jerritt Elliott says the past two wins against Kansas State and Iowa State have raised concerns.

“We need to find an identity,” Elliott said. “We just have to get in and watch some film and figure some things out.”

Texas’ defense has struggled throughout the season, ranking last in the conference with 13.11 digs per set. Baylor ranks second in digs with 16.11 per set, behind Iowa State at 16.34.

“Emotionally, we are not there [defensively],” Elliott said. “We are disconnected as a group at times. They put it in cruise control and don’t make things happen and other teams pounce on that from the defensive side.”

The Longhorns have allowed the most kills per set in the conference at 13.54 and the second most aces per set at 1.19. Baylor has allowed the second least amount of kills per set at 11.68, but also shows some defensive weakness, allowing 1.13 service aces per set.

Large leads also haven’t been safe with Texas’ defensive issues. After extending a five-point lead up two games against the Cyclones in the third set of Saturday’s match, errors on defense and attacks helped Iowa State extend the match to five sets.

“For some reason, we didn’t have that urgency from the start,” senior outside hitter Paulina Prieto Cerame said. “Obviously, the fourth set was a wake-up call and in the fifth set you have to compete.”

Baylor’s junior outside hitter Katie Staiger poses a threat to the Longhorns’ defense. Staiger was voted the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week for the third time this year on Oct. 10, ranking first in the conference in kills per set at 5.54. She’s coming off a 23-kill performance in a sweep over TCU — her second 23-kill showing this season.

The Bears also boast wins over some of the nation’s top teams. Baylor defeated No. 13 Washington State and top-5 Big 12 teams Kansas State and TCU.

Still, Texas outranks Baylor in every offensive category. The Burnt Orange hold a particular advantage in kills per set, with 14.14 compared to Baylor’s 13.31. And the Longhorns still hold the highest hitting percentage in the Big 12 at 30.2 percent.

Texas looks to capitalize in its strong offensive scheme and vamp up its defense on the road against Baylor at 7 p.m. 

“Baylor is playing at a very high level right now,” Elliott said. “If we play like [our past two games], with that defensive mentality, it’s going to be a tough night for us.”