Blocking helps No. 8 Volleyball withstand Santa Clara
Sept. 16, 2011
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
AUSTIN, Texas -- At this point in the season, the eighth-ranked Texas Volleyball team can’t be concerned with style points, but a sweep victory against Santa Clara on Friday night at the Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational will certainly satisfy the Longhorns for now.
With three freshmen in the starting rotation, and an injury that’s still keeping all-around stabilizer Sha’Dare McNeal on the bench, UT is learning about its identity on a daily basis. And with four early matches against top-10 opponents, the Longhorns find themselves both battle-tested and eager for the next challenge.
“This team is a work in progress, and we know that,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We’re going to be patient and keep teaching them, and hopefully they will apply that.”
The Longhorns prevailed 3-0 against a savvy west-coast style Broncos squad that featured scrappy defense and timely swings, and UT needed all facets of its lineup to withstand Santa Clara’s ball control. UT followed four team blocks and a combined seven kills from Rachael Adams and Haley Eckerman to roll away with a 25-13 first-set win, and then had to reach down and find some poise to close out the second.
After UT opened up a 14-10 lead, the Broncos came back to take a 20-18 advantage, prompting an Elliott timeout. He said he waited for the team “to bleed” a little longer before pausing the action, hoping to force his maturing team to find its own remedy.
When the Longhorns came out of the timeout huddle, Sydney Yogi steadied the pace with strong passing, and UT eventually won the set 25-23. Yogi led the Longhorns with 12 digs in the victory, and her passing from the libero position underscores UT’s improvement in the back row.
The Longhorns touted a 68 percent sideout rate against Santa Clara.
“We’re getting a lot more calmness in the back row,” Yogi said. “It’s getting to where we feel more comfortable next to each other. (The passing) still isn’t where we want it to be. It can always get better.”
As one of the Longhorns’ best all-around players, McNeal will boost UT’s passing ability when she returns from injury, but for now the Longhorns are working on technique and relying on their big block to help the serve-pass game.
UT finished with 11.5 team blocks in the three-set match, and the Longhorns’ blockers were in smart positions throughout the match to detour Santa Clara’s attackers from their favored hitting lanes.
“The blocking has really steadied out, and I thought our blocking in the first set was awesome. I think that’s why we went on such a big run,” Yogi said. “Passing is more finesse than anything, so I think the key is just staying calm.”