As junior middle blocker Brionne Butler wound up for a kill in the center of the court Friday night against Baylor, Longhorns fans put their horns up and steadily shook them as they cheered. When Butler’s kill pushed Texas to a 25-22 victory over the Baylor Bears in set one, the stadium exploded with noise — Texas fans jumped, screamed, clapped, high-fived and hugged.
In the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, the energy at the Frank Erwin Center during the Longhorns’ last home match of the season was loud, though incomparable to Gregory Gymnasium. But the Texas volleyball team has created its own energy which allowed them to remain undefeated with a 3-2 win over the No. 3 Bears. Though the Longhorns sometimes lagged in the latter half of the match, they came out with a win in their first real test of the season.
Butler said she looks to junior setter Jhenna Gabriel to bring the hype and to sophomore opposite hitter Skylar Fields when Fields makes big plays. Fields, who made the kill in the fifth set to put Texas up 11-5, was giggling and smiling in the post-match press conference. Fields said she tries to remain positive throughout matches.
“I always try to bring a positive light and bring some contagious energy,” Fields said. “That way we could use it, and (it) helps us grind through these long matches because we really did need that energy to keep us going and get us all the way through set five.”
While Texas secured the win, Friday night challenged the Longhorns. Texas won the first two sets, but Baylor clawed back in the third. Down by a point, the Bears led the Longhorns 18-16 after a four-point streak. Texas players tried to cover it: freshman libero Nalani Iosia flew all over the court to rescue Baylor kills, while junior outside hitter Logan Eggleston and Butler wound up for them. But in the final points of the third set, Texas committed two service errors that put the ball back in Baylor’s hands. The Bears capitalized, won 29-27 and pushed the match into a fourth set.
Texas’ on-court cohesion died out in the fourth. The Longhorns looked like they were sleepwalking, allowing Baylor to hold leads as large as 11 points. Texas fans were silent, their masks covering sighs and exasperated gasps as Baylor’s senior outside hitter Yossiana Pressley shoved kills down Texas’ defense. A herd of Bears fans took their turns screaming, cheering and hugging.
Texas’ sluggish performance resembled how other Big 12 teams have conceded to Texas after two-and-a-half sets of Longhorn dominance. By the time Texas woke up, the set had slipped too far to save and ended in a 25-14 win for Baylor. Out of timeouts, head coach Jerritt Elliott used the break in between sets to talk to his players.
“First thing I said to them was, ‘Inhale confidence, exhale doubt right now, close your eyes,’” Elliott said. “‘This is the situation that we want to be in, and we've got three to four minutes to recuperate and think about how to be a great team.’”
The pep talk worked, and Baylor’s momentum did not hold. In the fifth set, Texas went on a five-point streak that Baylor could not answer. Texas had nine kills in the fifth, including four by sophomore middle blocker Molly Phillips. The Longhorns finished the set 15-6 and with another win under their belts.
Fields was happy to win the last home match for senior setter Ashley Shook, who will be graduating in December. But she remains focused on Texas’ next four matches.
“It was fun to win and really fun to win for Shook on her senior night,” Fields said. “I think that we just need to keep on grinding, and take how we're playing and take it into our next four matches and just keep winning.”