Longhorns battle nerves, Michigan in Sweet 16

Wills Layton

For the 13th straight year, Texas has made the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. In order to extend this impressive streak, the team will need to get past the Michigan Wolverines on Friday.

The Longhorns are accustomed to postseason success, making it to at least the regional final for 12 years in a row. This season, they’re ranked within the top five yet again, and now have a chance to make it to the Final Four for the sixth time in the pass seven years.

Last year, the Longhorns lost in the Regional Finals to Stanford, fueling a rivalry that also includes a NCAA Championship loss to the Cardinal back in 2016. While Texas is generally a lock to go far in the tournament, upsets are always possible.

“Everyone’s expecting Texas to just move on,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “There’s nothing given in this sport. The emotional connection that we have to have as a team and the commitment that we have to have is big.”

In the first two rounds of this year’s field, the Longhorns swept their way past both Stephen F. Austin and Texas State, making quick work of the two Texas schools. While the team was expected to do well in Gregory Gym in the early rounds, that kind of success moving forward will be more difficult.

“In the NCAA Tournament, there are a lot of coaches who expect their team to be perfect,” Elliott said. “What I’ve learned over the years is that you don’t need to be perfect to win. You need to be better than the opponent that given night and that doesn’t mean you have to play perfectly to beat your opponent.”

It’s important to remember the athletes are people too, with emotions and anxiety. On the biggest stage, it is normal for players to suffer from nerves. For the freshmen on the team, this is the first taste of the postseason in their young careers.

“It’s been super exciting,” outside hitter Logan Eggleston said. “I know there have been a lot of nerves, but we all have come in playing super competitive. So it’s been super exciting and excitedly what I thought it would be like.”

For the juniors and seniors who have played in at least one National Championship game, this kind of stage is much more comfortable and familiar. That still does not prevent the pregame nerves from settling in.

“I feel like the nerves are always still there,” outside hitter Micaya White said. “Even from my freshman year, I’ve always gotten nervous. Nothing has really changed.”

Elliott said those pregame jitters, especially in the Sweet 16, aren’t exactly a bad thing.

“I told them that if they aren’t nervous, then I’m concerned,” Elliott said. “If you don’t have butterflies coming into the NCAA Tournament you’ve got something emotional missing. It’s okay to be nervous.”

First serve will begin at 3 p.m. in Provo, Utah.