Undefeated Texas volleyball fueled by tight family dynamic off the court

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Photo Credit: Jack Myer | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas volleyball team spends a lot of time together at practices, workouts and matches, but the bonding doesn’t end there for the players. Between throwing Texas football watch parties, hosting team dinners or playing cards on game night, they have also forged a tight, family-like relationship off the court.

The connection is clear to anyone who watches Texas play on the court. The Longhorns are 10–0 and have looked unbeatable all season. In between points, players on the bench can be seen doing various TikTok dances or clicking their heels after service aces, a celebration they inherited from sophomore opposite hitter Skylar Fields.

“I think that’s really rare because a lot of other teams, when you think about girls’ sports, don’t really bond off the court,” Fields said in a teleconference Oct. 20. “They’re really just friends on the court, and I think it’s good that we have that relationship off the court because it helps us trust each other.”

Junior setter Jhenna Gabriel said she really enjoys the Texas football watch parties with her teammates because they allow themselves to let loose, cheer on their school and have fun with one another. She said the team’s chemistry isn’t exclusive to match day.

“It’s kind of rare, I feel like, to be on a team where everybody loves everybody like you're an actual family,” Gabriel said. “We’re there for each other constantly and that’s not just something you see on the court.”

This bond extends to the new members of the team as well. Libero Morgan O’Brien played most of her collegiate career as a defensive specialist at the University of Illinois, but she came to Texas as a graduate transfer this offseason. Fields said O’Brien introduced the team to a new card game they like to play on their game nights that relies on teamwork in order to win, which she said helps with their bonding and ability to work together as a unit.

Texas was upset last season by Lousiville in the third round of the NCAA tournament. Head coach Jerritt Elliott said the loss, which marked the first time since 2005 that Texas didn’t reach the fourth round, really hit home with the players and sparked discussions that helped bring the team together. 

“We talked about communication and respect,” Elliott said. “But we have a lot of personalities that don’t rub people the wrong way, and they’re able to have honest communication.”

Over the summer, Elliott said the players watched “The Last Dance,” a documentary series about Michael Jordan and his championship-winning Bulls teams, and they discussed how they could apply those dynamics of communication and respect to their program. 

The early returns have been good as the Longhorns have responded well to the little adversity they’ve faced so far this season. Texas fell behind 2-1 to Kansas State Oct. 16, but the team rallied and came back to win the match in five sets. The Longhorns swept the Wildcats the next night.

Nalani Iosia, a freshman libero from California, said joining a team with such great chemistry has been surreal.

“It’s such an awesome experience to have these teammates,” Iosia said. “They’re awesome girls on and off the court. It doesn’t feel real to me still.”