Texas chases Big 12 perfection

Marcus Krum

Jerritt Elliott finds himself in a position he’s been in just once before.

The Texas head coach has the Longhorns rolling through conference play. Texas is 13–0 with just three matches remaining in conference play. Elliott’s Texas teams have finished conference play undefeated only once: In 2013, when the Longhorns made the second of five consecutive NCAA Final Four appearances.

But standing between Texas and this difficult mark of perfection is what is likely the toughest matchup the Longhorns will face this year. The path to an unblemished record goes through Waco, where the No. 1 Longhorns play No. 3 Baylor in a rematch of the early-season sweep of the Bears.

Since the Oct. 23 loss to Texas, the Bears have put themselves back on track to remain in the conversation for a Big 12 Championship. They’ve won five straight, losing just three sets in that span. The Longhorns remain the only loss on Baylor’s record this season.

Pressure is mounting heading into this matchup, but Elliott says the Longhorns are excited to play in a high-stakes matchup late in the season like this one. Yet, they don’t look at this match as anything other than another step toward their ultimate goal.

“I think the way that we look at our season and the way that we go about … being prepared for every match, we try to take it one match at a time,” Elliott said. “We’ll do that in the regular season, we’ll do that, and then … playoffs. So this is just another match for us. You know that the media and everybody else talked about how big it is. But for us, it’s just another match and seeing if we can improve on it.”

The late-season matchup has ramifications for not only the final conference standings but also the postseason. A Big 12 title is still up for grabs, but the No. 3 Bears are on the hunt for more. The No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament is in reach for both teams. A win for the Bears could change the course of the season. A win for the Longhorns could show that this team is headed toward greatness.

“It’d be a great test for us on the road,” Elliott said. “I think it’s great timing. You know, our last two road matches were tough. So I think it’s going to be good timing for us to prepare. I try to take advantage of that.”

Elliott has instilled this mindset into the entire team. This match will have clear impacts on the remainder of this season for the Longhorns. Yet, Elliott has Texas focused on its improvement first.

“Our biggest thing, before we step out of locker before every single game, we put a really big priority and just focus on our side of the net, because we need to focus on ourselves in order to get better,” sophomore libero Sydney Petersen said.