Kansas takes on Texas toe-to-toe

Hannah Williford

After Longhorn fans suffered through a fourth consecutive loss in the Red River Rivalry for Texas football, a win from the steady volleyball team seemed like the perfect antidote. But unranked Kansas had other plans for the Horns in a five-set match.

Before today’s game, Texas had won all eight of their matches this season and only lost four sets. Their main challenge ahead would be Baylor, the only other ranked team in the Big 12. 

But Saturday, Kansas and secret weapon freshman Caroline Bien would prove a worthy opponent for the Longhorns, who was forced to rely on strong play from Skylar Fields to save the game in the 11th hour.

Texas scraped by with a 3-2 win on Saturday in front of a sold-out crowd in Lawrence, Kansas. The Jayhawks were on fire throughout every set, with extremely strong play from opposite hitter Bien. After losing the first two sets, Texas found themselves in a tight game. The Longhorns hadn’t been forced into five sets the entire season.

While the first set started slowly for Texas, it wasn’t out of character. Opponents typically come out swinging, and watching a Logan Eggleston-Fields combo to regain the lead late in the first set is not a rarity. But today, no resurgence came.

The Longhorns lost the set on a serve into the net by Sydney Peterson 25-18, an unusual sight for Texas. After head coach Jerritt Elliott put a focus on serving this season, Texas rose to first in the nation for service aces.

In the second set, which the Longhorns have dominated all season, Texas couldn’t find their groove yet again. Kansas played with strong teamwork, and while the Longhorns didn’t panic, they also couldn’t find their fire. With a 25-21 loss, Texas was down two sets in their biggest deficit of the season.

Finally, as panic set in during set three, Texas was able to hang on for a 25-21 win with the help of Fields, who had over 20 kills in the match.

The unstoppable performance from Fields came in the same week that she was recognized as the American Volleyball Coaches Association National Player of the Week. Fields averaged 3.76 kills per set this season with a .337 hitting percentage. 

Settling into their do-or-die mentality, Texas proved what gained them their No. 1 ranking in set four. After starting the set down 5-10, the Longhorns embarked on a run for a 25-19 victory.

Two-two, Texas had finally found their way back to a level playing field, and players got back to their favorite roles: Fields hit an unreturnable spike to the front corner of the court and Melanie Parra smacked the ball for a trademark ace. A game of consolatory hugs became fists of victory in the air. While Kansas stayed with them until the end, Texas kept their streak alive with a 15-13 win.

Texas and Kansas will meet again Sunday at 3 p.m., with the Jayhawks in search of redemption.