It took two hours and nearly four sets of play, but Texas finally found what makes it the American Volleyball Coaches Association Coaches' Poll’s No. 4 squad in the country.
It wasn’t pretty for the Longhorns. Even in the sets it won, Texas squeaked out close victories, at times relying on opponents’ mistakes. But in the season opener, the Longhorns came through with a 3-1 win over the University of Northern Iowa, winning 25-19, 22-25, 25-23, 25-19.
UNI stuck toe-to-toe with the Longhorns for much of the match. However, it was the home stretch of the fourth set where Texas hit its stride. Tied at 16, the Longhorns simply began attacking more consistently.
“We got out of some blocking schemes,” Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We did a much better job of just getting in front of the hitters and getting low and tight. We got some good touches up and down, and then we just started transitioning.”
A jolt of confidence came after three consecutive kills pushed the lead to 19-16, and it was over from there.
“Our communication really picked up in that last set,” sophomore outside hitter Logan Eggleston said. “We just kind of said, ‘We’re the better team. We just need to come out and prove it.’ At the end, (we) really took that to heart.”
The performance of the Longhorns for the first three sets was not the performance Elliott said he’s seen from this squad in practice. Eleven service errors and five return errors ailed Texas’ ability to break away with a scoring run. At each point when it seemed as if the Longhorns would gain momentum, Northern Iowa snatched it back by capitalizing on a mistake or a solid kill.
For a group that started five underclassmen, first day jitters are expected. Gregory Gym was racaus with Longhorn supporters.
“We had nine errors in the first 16 points,” Elliott said. “It happens when you press, it happens when you’re not thinking about how to win the game and what you need to do and just forcing a lot of situations.”
The fourth-set display of force showed just how talented this team is, but it also showed the inconsistencies of the attack. With freshman outside hitter Skylar Fields and Eggleston leading the way alongside senior outside hitter Micaya White, Texas will need time to mesh.
“We need to keep our communication with our setters,” Eggleston said. “There were just some times when we were not telling them when we were available, so I think that’s the biggest thing we need to improve on right now.”
The season has just begun, but the beef of Texas’ season starts now. The Longhorns face No. 14 USC on Saturday before No. 3 Minnesota, No. 1 Stanford and No. 9 BYU. While the Longhorns started 1-0, Elliott knows that improvement needs to happen sooner rather than later.
“We’ve got to be better volleyball players,” Elliott said. “We know that we’re young in some positions, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be really good. We can be a really good team. A lot of this has to do with belief in our individual self and belief in the team, and trust in that system.”