Volleyball seeks to end decade-long drought since last national championship


Katie Borchetta, Sports Reporter

Equipped with a stacked roster that features firepower all over the court, Texas volleyball was the last remaining undefeated team in the country before losing its first game of the season to Iowa State on Wednesday.

While the loss dropped the Longhorns from their post as the unanimous No. 1 team in the country in this week’s American Volleyball Coaches Association Poll, the Longhorns are getting it together in hopes of capturing an elusive national championship this year.

“If you were to look at our charts, you would see that progressively we are getting stronger, more fit and have more acceleration in the way that we play the game,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said Oct. 10. 

Texas’ last national championship came in 2012 when the team went 29–4 overall and 15–1 in conference play. The Longhorns won the Big 12 Championship and with a final 3-0 sweep against Oregon in the national championship game, they earned the program’s third NCAA title.

Former outside hitter and three-time All-American for the Longhorns, Bailey Webster was a prominent player that led to the 2012 team’s success. Webster had 16 kills and four blocks in the national championship game en route to earning 2012 NCAA Championship Most Outstanding Player.

When thinking back to the 2012 team, Webster said they had plenty of size and used it to their advantage, which helped the team make up for some weak spots, particularly on the back row at times. Webster has followed this year’s team closely, and said that this year’s Longhorns are a more well-rounded team overall.

“They have strong team chemistry,” Webster said. “One thing I do really like about this team, it’s that they’re strong in almost every position, so that’s a very good sign.”

In his 22nd year as the Longhorns’ head coach, Elliott is the bond that ties all of Texas’ previous teams together. He has said similar sentiments about how talented this year’s team is and that he also knows how difficult it is to keep a volleyball program consistently good for a long time.

“It’s a ton of work, a lot of sleepless nights and never letting your guard down,” Elliott said. “This is a completely different group. They’ve been probably the hardest working group that we’ve ever had in terms of consistency.”

Besides the comparable work ethics of both teams, there is another coincidentally similar factor that connects them. Both suffered their first conference loss in upsets to Iowa State. In 2012, the Longhorns ran through the conference schedule undefeated until their last match against the Cyclones. 

“I almost think that helped us going into the tournament,” Webster said. “It allowed us to really dig deep inside and find that grit. … It just changed our whole perspective.”

This year, the Longhorns fell short to Iowa State in a five-set match. The loss to an unranked team illustrated the importance of mental focus in volleyball, something Webster said the 2012 team thrived at by never putting too much pressure on one match or one play.

Elliott also said he believes in taking the season one match at a time. When asked about being undefeated before the loss, he noted that he doesn’t look at their success from a long term point of view.

“Only (the media talks) about undefeated,” Elliott said. “We’re trying to go undefeated this week … that’s what our goal is. One week at a time.”

Even though Webster said she noticed many similarities in mindset and play between the two teams, she still feels each team has different strengths and energy.

“Every team has their own identity,” Webster said. “A lot of things can be a determining factor based on the group’s profile that you have for that year.”

Though both teams have strong players and 2022 is perhaps the Longhorns’ best shot at a national title since 2012, Webster said she doesn’t feel it is right to compare the teams, insisting on respecting this year’s team for its talents and worth.

“They’re a very mature group,” Webster said. “It seems like a very cohesive group and it’s been fun to watch them this season. I think that they have all the tools and capabilities to really take it all the way.”