Longhorns rolling as country’s new No. 1 team

Marcus Krum

Texas’ sweep of the then-No. 1 Baylor Bears has the Longhorns are partying like it’s 2017.

For the first time since the preseason poll of 2017, Texas is ranked first in the AVCA coaches poll. Heading into a matchup in Lubbock against Texas Tech, the Longhorns have made a statement as the hottest team in the country over the last month and a half.

Since a surprise loss to Rice on Sept. 18, Texas has lost just one set, which came when the Longhorns took down Iowa State, 3-1, on Sept. 25. The streak of sweeps looked likely to come to its end against then-No. 1 Baylor, but the Longhorns were unrelenting in an absolutely dominant sweep last Wednesday.

“I think it gives us a little confidence but also that we need is to keep focused and keep grinding,” sophomore setter Jhenna Gabriel said.

All the grit and grind Texas has put in this thus far is beginning to pay big dividends. The net play has improved vastly as the Longhorns have averaged at least four blocks per set in each of their last three sweeps. Defensive play that was a liability at the onset of the season has slowly become a strength.

“I think there’s a lot of things we’ve been working on,” Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We’ve been spending a lot of time on our defense and our blocking, and you can start seeing that it’s starting to come through a little bit.”

It’s not just the skill that has improved as the freshmen and sophomores on Texas’ front line have grown into their roles. The Longhorns are meshing as a team, and with that has come an air-tight defense and, for the most part, mistake-free volleyball.

“It’s just like all those little plays are adding up and getting the other team a little tired and frustrated because we’re scooping balls and everything,” senior outside hitter Micaya White said. “So I think it was just great to see everything that we’ve been working on so hard to actually pay off in a game situation.”

It wasn’t an immediate fix for this team. They had their share of defensive struggles early on — they only recorded double-digit blocks one time in the first eight matches. But the slow climb, the grind that the Longhorns are committed to, has turned them from a young promising club into a scalding hot team scorching its way through conference play.

“I think we’re focusing more on our side of the net and focusing on the little things: the playing away from the ball, the defense,” White said. “And I think little by little every day, it’s getting better. And I think that’s what you want.”