Texas prepares to face red-hot Kansas

Keshav Prathivadi

Texas knows a thing or two about playing close games.

After edging TCU in Fort Worth last week and outlasting Iowa State on Saturday, the No. 4 Longhorns will head to Lawrence, Kansas, a place that has flummoxed several Texas teams in recent memory, for a date with the Jayhawks.

Texas definitely remembers its last trip there — a five-set thriller last October, in which the Longhorns traded sets and claimed the final one to escape with a victory over then-No. 9 Kansas.

The Longhorns were led by former outside hitters Lexi Sun and Chiaka Ogbogu, while former Jayhawk and Austin-native Madison Rigdon anchored Kansas’ attack. Despite a variety of new faces making up what was a top-10 matchup last year, the stakes haven’t changed at all.

“The entire preseason was getting us ready for conference play,” outside hitter Logan Eggleston said. “It’s really important that we came out strong. I’m glad that we have.”

On the road, Texas has been feeling the heat of its Big 12 foes as of late. Kansas State and TCU both took the Longhorns to five sets during the past two weeks, forcing them to produce a pair of late comebacks to secure wins. While not afraid to play from behind, the close games have seemed to bring up concerns as to what level of play Texas is currently at.

“It’s super important because they have all their fans here,” Eggleston said. “Every single team plays their best against us so it’s really important that we come into their gym and do our best and end up with wins.”

Kansas’ home court has been a tough place to play for Texas in recent years. In the past three years, every game the Longhorns have played there has required all five sets to decide it, and Texas won two of those three contests.

Both teams have seen a significant roster overhaul, especially after the end of last season. With Rigdon’s departure, outside hitters Jada Burse and Ashley Smith have been leading the Kansas attack with nearly 400 combined kills between the pair.

Sun and Ogbogu’s departures have made way for players like Eggleston and redshirt freshman Brionne Butler to see more action on the floor. The pair have accounted for nearly 256 of Texas’ 660 kills on the year. Only outside hitter Micaya White has more kills than the freshman pair.

If Texas wants to prove a point to the Big 12 and the selection committee, a win in Lawrence is the perfect place to start. The Jayhawks sit on the cusp of entering the AVCA Coaches’ Poll and should prove to be an interesting matchup for the Longhorns.

“I think we just have to regroup and focus on what we’re doing,” Butler said. “We just focus our minds on the next game, not focusing too much on the past or future … just a next-game mentality.”