No. 2 Texas volleyball advances to regionals in NCAA tournament with sweep of Rice

Jordan Mitchell

After one of the lowest Gregory Gymnasium attendances all season at Thursday night’s Sacred Heart vs. Texas match, head coach Jerritt Elliott got his wish for a sold out venue in Texas volleyball’s second sweep of Rice this season.

In one of the most competitive games Texas has played all season, the crowd almost became problematic, as it became hard for both teams to communicate during rallies. In Texas’ back row, liberos Nalani Iosia and Melanie Parra ran together a handful of times during the first set, resulting in a plethora of reception errors and missed opportunities for offense play.

“It’s really hard to hear out there,” Elliott said. “We almost need our fans to be quiet when the other team is serving to allow us to communicate. They’re not hearing each other in those situations.”

Despite the deafening crowd and Rice hitting at a .340 rate on the match — the most efficient of any of the Longhorn’s opponents this season — Texas put up an impressive 53 kills on 96 swings with a mere six attack errors. In the offensive effort against the Owls, middle blocker Molly Phillips recorded 11 kills for a .566 hitting percentage in the match.

Elliott and the Texas volleyball coaching staff often refers to Phillips as the “silent assassin,” not just for her game IQ and incredible arsenal of kills, but also for her being overshadowed by hitters such as Logan Eggleston and Skylar Fields. Because Phillips has a different skill set in comparison to her teammates, leaving her without blockers can determine the trajectory of a match.

“(Phillips) is a really great player that is underestimated at times, or maybe not as recognized as some of the other all Americans on their team,” Rice head coach Genny Volpe said. “She’s a huge X Factor for them. They run her so fast and she can hit all the angles she clearly sees the block.”

While Phillips dominated the first two sets at the net, Fields overwhelmed the Owl’s defense in the second half of the match, sinking 18 kills and adding three blocks for 19.5 points in total. Thanks to heroics by Eggleston and libero Nalani Iosia in the back row, Fields was often set up for cross-court shots over the heads of Rice’s middle blockers.

“My teammates give me good opportunities to score,” Fields said. “I do whatever I can do to help us win.” 

With the tough win over Rice, Elliott feels confident going into the next round of the tournament, despite being in a tough region. 

“We play the best when we have the best teams in front of us,” Elliott said. “Rice presented a test for us.”

Next Thursday, Texas will play either Hawaii or Washington at Gregory Gym in the first round of regionals. Hawaii is coming off an impressive 22-7 season, while Washington is the reigning Pac-12 Champions. While neither team will be easy to top in a regional match, Elliott looks forward to the competition.

“This is the toughest region (in the tournament), ” Elliott said. “We’ve always played good against the big names and Washington or Hawaii will have our attention next week. It should be a really good battle.”