Top-ranked Texas traveled to Hawaii this past weekend to begin its quest to defend its 2012 National Championship at the Chevron Rainbow Wahine Invitational. In the team’s opening matchup with Hawaii, however, Texas received inconsistent play, resulting in a four-set loss.
“We expected it to be a tough battle, and Hawaii is so good at home,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We needed to put our team in some stressful environments, and playing in front of nearly 9,000 people is a stressful environment.”
In front of an announced crowd of 9,806, the Longhorns fell behind Hawaii early in the first set after a six-point run gave Hawaii a 10-4 lead. They did their best to fight back, but eventually lost the set 25-19 while being outhit .212-.344.
Texas began the second set strong and used a 5-1 run to build a 17-12 lead before taking the set. The team’s .625 hitting percentage in the set, was the Longhorns’ match high.
Hawaii continued to punish the Longhorns’ defense in the third set, amassing a 16-11 lead until a pair of kills from sophomore middle blocker Molly McCage led a 7-2 run, tying the set at 18. A kill by junior outside hitter Haley Eckerman gave Texas a 20-19 lead late, but Hawaii held off Texas’ rally in extra sets to win 27-25.
The Rainbow Wahine Invitational held Texas to only 10 kills in the final set to clinch the match with a 25-16 win. Senior Bailey Webster led Texas with a match-high 19 kills and Eckerman notched 13.
The Longhorns rebounded in their second match against the University of Texas-El Paso, sweeping the Miners three sets to none. Freshman outside hitter Pilar Victoria bolstered the Texas offense with a match-high 14 kills.
The Texas defense showed some boisterousness that wasn’t seen against Hawaii, holding UT-El Paso to a subzero hitting percentage on seven kills and eight errors. Although the final two sets were closely contested, the Texas offense, led by freshman Chloe Collins with a match-leading 33 assists, proved too much.
In its third and final match of the weekend, Texas rallied from a 2-1 deficit against San Diego to force a fifth set, of which the Longhorns took full advantage.
After falling behind in the first three sets, Texas and San Diego traded point-for-point in the fourth set before a kill and a block by outside hitter Webster forced a final set. The Texas offense demonstrated its dominance in the fifth frame, building an 8-3 lead, which it never relinquished.
Webster and junior middle blocker Khat Bell recorded 12 kills each against the Toreros while sophomore Amy Neal notched a career-high nine kills along with five digs.
The offense looks poised for another big season but if the Longhorns want to contend with the likes of No. 2 Penn State and No. 3 Stanford, both of whom they will host this weekend at the Nike Volleyball Big Four Classic, they need to find uniformity.
“A lot of our team is back, but there are different pieces and teams are better,” Elliott said. “We’ll get better.”