Texas is loaded with young talent. The Longhorns have stockpiled skilled underclassmen at nearly every position, and so far, it has paid off.
It may be just three games into the conference season, but freshman middle blocker Molly Phillips and freshman opposite hitter Skylar Fields have the Longhorns rolling as they head to Manhattan, Kansas for a matchup with the Kansas State Wildcats on Wednesday.
Phillips and Fields have led the charge of the talented group of freshmen and sophomores that have found roles on this top-5 Texas team.
“For what their role is right now, in terms of coming in and having to take on so much responsibility and performing every single night, they’ve done a phenomenal job,” Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott said after the Longhorns’ win over Iowa State on Sept. 25.
Phillips and Fields have cemented their places in the starting rotation early in their college careers. Elliott said he is pleased with the valuable experience they’ve gained early on, yet their experience came with some trouble.
Texas dropped a preseason heartbreaker to Rice several weeks ago, a shocking loss that Elliott said was a wake up call for the team.
“It was disappointing to lose the game,” Elliott said. “As coaches, you talk to your freshmen and sophomores about how well teams can play against Texas, especially in the state.”
Since that loss, in-state squads have had no such luck. Texas has lost just one set since that match, sweeping Texas A&M, Texas Tech and TCU. The wake-up call worked. The Longhorns were ready for conference play.
“Personally, for me, it’s strap in,” senior middle blocker Orie Agbaji said. “Every team is going to want (to give their) A-game every night. You have to be ready to go and really be ready to play any team.”
Fields and Phillips have each already seen growth in this limited sample size. Fields is one of the team leaders with a .355 hitting percentage on the season. Phillips is the team’s leading blocker at 45.0. The team is only growing in confidence, yet there are still plenty of areas to clean up.
“Our defense has to get better,” Elliott said. “It’s something that we’re spending some time on trying to get better. But one of the things, it’s tough, we’ve got a lot of really young blockers up there, and we’re reaching really high and getting tooled and not giving ourselves opportunities.”
While the defense is a point of contention for Elliott, this is a Longhorn squad that is in good shape in the thick of Big 12 play. Kansas State is trending in the opposite direction. The Wildcats have lost four of their last five and are just 1–2 in conference play. Conference road matches are always a good test.
For the freshman duo and the Longhorns, it’s just another opportunity to grow.