Undefeated Texas volleyball begins Big 12 championship defense on Thursday

Hannah Williford

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the September 27 flipbook.

While Texas volleyball enjoyed a break this weekend for their bye week, the rest of the Big 12 started their campaigns to be crowned Big 12 champion as conference play commenced.

Texas faced off against teams across the nation to start their season, including Minnesota, Notre Dame and Stanford. The Longhorns ended their non-conference play with a perfect 9–0 record. 

Now, the team heads into the second part of the season where  it will play against eight Big 12 teams through the end of November, each with two back-to-back matches. 

While the games until this point do affect Texas’ NCAA tournament chances, the Big 12 champion, who is crowned by the highest winning percentage, has an automatic ticket to the tournament. On their road to repeating as Big 12 champions — the Longhorns have won the four last Big 12 titles and nine of the last ten — Texas will play West Virginia, Kansas, TCU, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Texas Tech and perhaps their biggest competition of the season, Baylor. 

Despite having three losses on the season — two to top-10 ranked teams — Baylor is ranked No. 10 in the AVCA coaches poll. Since those losses, Baylor beat No. 7 Florida and won five games in a row with sweeps.

Gio Gennero, who covers volleyball for the Baylor Lariat, said despite disappointment last season for Baylor in the NCAA tournament, he thinks the team is coming back strong this fall.

“I really expect a lot of big things from Baylor,” Gennero said. “Right now they’re playing really good, they have an abundance of talent … they’re really starting to click.”

Gennero said he expects a match going to five sets when Texas and Baylor meet in the beginning of November in Waco.

No other team from the Big 12 is currently ranked in the AVCA coaches poll. 

“I think that the Big 12 has solid teams all around,” Gennero said. “I’m not saying that no teams can even compete with us … (but) I don’t think any teams besides UT can really hang with us right now.”

Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said his team would be using the bye week they have between non-conference and conference games to recharge. As the Longhorns enter conference play, he said the focus will be on improving serving, first touches and defensive touches. 

Texas also introduced a new player at the end of September, setter Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres, a junior transfer from the University of Utah. Currently playing behind setter Jhenna Gabriel, she played shortly against both Texas A&M and Rice, but will likely see more time in conference play. Elliott said he was excited to introduce her to the lineup and integrate her into the rest of the team.

“I think my job obviously is to bring the best talent in the country and let people compete for it and see if it can give us some different options and different looks,” Elliott said. 

To start their conference play, Texas will face West Virginia in a series of two matches Thursday and Friday. West Virginia has won 12 of its 13 games so far, including a win against No. 23 Michigan.