On Saturday, the Oklahoma volleyball team will roll into Gregory Gym, likely prepared to roll its eyes at the inevitable chants of “OU sucks.”
But just how ready is Texas for Big 12 play? The Longhorns, six of whose first nine matches were played against top 25 opponents, are currently 8-3. Until they played Minnesota Sept. 6, the Longhorns had the nation’s longest home win streak in Gregory Gym. They were swallowed up by Illinois Friday, only to come back and sweep both Cincinnati and UCF Saturday.
Sophomore outside hitter Haley Eckerman noted that team chemistry was a large part of coming back strong after a loss.
“I think all of us were motivated by doing what we need to do to score and just playing together as a team,” Eckerman said. “That was a big focus of just playing together, cheering, getting excited and pumping each other up.”
Team chemistry will play a large role as Texas heads into Big 12 play. With five freshmen and four sophomores, the Longhorns are a relatively young team, still getting accustomed to collegiate play.
Despite the youth of the team, this past weekend saw strong performances by several freshmen. Outside hitter/setter Nicole Dalton had a season-high 17 digs against UCF, while middle blocker Sara Hattis had a season-high seven kills.
Texas is also a dominant force in the blocking department. Coming into the past weekend, the Longhorns led the nation in blocks, championed by Dalton and sophomore middle blocker/outside hitter Khat Bell.
One area of concern is service errors. The Longhorns had 28 this past weekend, which head coach Jerritt Elliott said meant, “We pretty much scored 45 percent of the points for other teams.”
Fixing the errors, he said, is a work in progress.
“It is part of being young and part of understanding how to manage a game, but I think we did a really good job of that after set two,” Elliott said. “They understand it, they are applying it, and when they put their mind to it, they can do that. It is key for us.”
Two other Big 12 teams, Kansas State and Iowa State, currently sit in the Top 25. But first, Texas will have to face Oklahoma. The Sooners are coming off a weekend of strong play, with three back-to-back sweeps of SMU, Arkansas-Little Rock and New Mexico.
Oklahoma junior middle blocker Sallie McLaurin has the second highest hitting percentage in the Big 12 and also leads the conference in total blocks. Texas’ Haley Eckerman ranks first in kills and points in the Big 12.
“We must solidify the lineup and just get organized with that,” Elliott said of entering conference play. “Oklahoma is playing very well right now and our conference has had some big wins this week, so it is going to be a very competitive conference as it has been in the past. Our girls can win the conference, but we are going to have our hands full and we have got to be good night in night out.”
Printed on Tuesday, September 18, 2012 as: Longhorns ready for Oklahoma, conference play