Texas was in perfect position. Up 21-20 in the third set, the fifth-seeded Longhorns were set up to get right back in the game after dropping the first two sets. But that’s where it all fell apart.
After a series of kills, with two from BYU outside hitter Veronica Jones-Perry, the Longhorns could only muster the same stunned look on their faces after losing the first two sets. Only this time, it’d be the last point they played for another eight months.
In what was a closely contested game through each set, No. 4 BYU took down Texas in straight sets (25-23, 25-23, 25-21) to send the Longhorns packing back to Austin. Texas, now left picking up the pieces after a second consecutive Elite Eight exit, players felt they got too little out of a team that could have played for so much more.
“They’re just a really good volleyball team,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “They create a ton more opportunities for themselves … we just weren’t able to execute from 20 (points) on.”
George Albert Smith Fieldhouse is known to be one of the best atmospheres in college volleyball, and one of the hardest to play in as well. Texas didn’t seem fazed early on though, holding a 17-13 advantage deep into the first set.
That’s when Jones-Perry heated up. The six-foot senior amassed 25 kills in the contest, consistently sending blazing-fast balls across the net that the Longhorns couldn’t handle. Her dominance, coupled with the raucous environment prevented Texas from finishing sets.
In the second set, Texas played from behind for the most part but found a way to tie the game at 19 apiece. Even after BYU carried momentum to a 24-20 lead, the Longhorns strung together a 3-0 run to get within one but once again fell short.
“Our passing broke down a little bit, and we got pretty predictable when that happened,” Elliott said. “We weren’t able to score in the out-of-system game.”
And with these three shortcomings defining a game that Texas had a chance to snag, it was only three points that made the difference and quickly ended its season. But even with disappointment from yet another postseason exit, the postgame press conference gave the Longhorns an opportunity to reflect on the progress made this season with their young core.
From setter Jhenna Gabriel netting 31 assists and outside hitter Logan Eggleston pacing Texas with 15 kills when it was hard to find a consistent go-to player, freshmen played a big part in this game and the season as a whole. And that’s a good thing for this team moving forward.
“We did a good job sticking with each other and creating our own energy,” outside hitter Yaasmeen Bedart-Ghani said. “It’s tough playing in a crowd against us, but I think we did a good job.”
But even with the optimism, any season-ending game came with emotion. As middle blocker Morgan Johnson and Bedart-Ghani walked off the floor for the last time in burnt orange, their coach pointed out their individual and team contributions to the program.
And while the flight home might seem a little longer than usual, these seniors — and this team — can return to Austin knowing they helped put Texas’ volleyball program in the right direction.
“They led four freshmen to this point,” Elliott said. “The way the freshmen performed on this stage in front of this crowd … it’s one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had in the past few seasons.”