16 is magic number as No. 5 Texas’ season heads into Big 12 Conference play

Keshav Prathivadi

Sixteen. That’s the number of games remaining in No. 5 Texas’ season heading into Big 12 Conference play.

That’s also the number of games the Longhorns will have to win — excluding the conference tournament — to secure the right to host all the rounds in the NCAA Tournament until the Final Four.

After two consecutive losses to Stanford, the Longhorns are looking to bounce back. And despite only winning one of seven sets played against the Cardinal, Texas’ confidence hasn’t wavered.

“It’s really important that just from this whole week, we learned we’re a really good team,” senior outside hitter Yaasmeen Bedart-Ghani said. “We have a lot of pieces that once we get them all together, we’re going to be really successful.”

This Longhorns team is different from previous years in that freshman players are at the core of the team. Led by players such as outside hitter Logan Eggleston, middle blocker Brionne Butler and outside hitter Katarina Luketic, Texas isn’t short on talent by any means.

After playing one of the team’s toughest out-of-conference schedules in recent years — which featured games against ranked teams like Oregon, Wisconsin and Stanford — the Longhorn freshmen have a lot more experience than in previous years. In a Big 12 conference with several formidable teams, having younger players to lean on can be crucial.

“There’s nothing like experience,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “Especially when you got a lot of young players on the floor to be in this kind of stress and see what it’s like and see how relentless it is and (how) good teams are.”

Texas will kick off its conference slate during a road trip against Kansas State on Wednesday. The Wildcats linger just outside of the top 25 in the AVCA Coaches’ Poll and boast a 10–1 record heading into the contest.

Kansas State is led by senior outside hitter Kylee Zumach, who has a team-high 152 kills and 107 digs on the year. One thing that should worry Texas about Zumach is her height. Standing at 6-foot 4-inches, Zumach could cause the same issues Stanford’s Kathryn Plummer and Audriana Fitzmorris created for the Longhorns.

“This preseason I thought our team was really good,” Bedart-Ghani said. “We’ve just got to get back in the gym and keep working at (our problems). Conference is going to challenge us as well, which is even better.”

For many teams, the toughest part of the season — conference play — starts now. Texas, now eight games in, has received a chance to evaluate its play so far.

Service errors and blocking have been focal points thus far, but both issues can be fixed. One positive that has emerged from this season is discovering the depth that Texas possesses. Eggleston, Luketic and Butler have played a big part in giving the Longhorns’ veterans some added talent to depend on, and it may prove to be a huge boost as the season continues.

“There’s only one way to do it and that’s to get back in the gym,” Elliott said. “We can continue to get better. We’ve just got to believe in that and buy in.”

Texas will play Kansas State tonight in Manhattan, Kansas. The first serve is set for 6 p.m.