No. 2 Volleyball still standing tall after seven ranked opponents
Sept. 18, 2009
AUSTIN, Texas -- The last time Iowa State played inside Gregory Gym, the Texas Longhorns concluded their evening with a raucous dog pile on the center of the court.
That victory, of course, sent UT to the NCAA Semifinals for the first time in more than a decade. UT defensive specialist Sydney Yogi remembers it as a "momentous occasion."
There was no dog pile on Friday night, despite the second-ranked Longhorns sweep victory against the No. 10 Cyclones. But the match felt momentous nonetheless.
After all, it marked UT's seventh-straight victory against a ranked opponent. That's right -- the Longhorns are now 7-0 after opening the season with seven matches against teams in the national top 25.
No other team in the Sports Imports/AVCA top 10 has played more than four ranked opponents to date. Penn State, the nation's No. 1 team, hasn't played any.
And so here are the Longhorns unscathed and, seemingly, undaunted.
"I mean, we could schedule easier (preconference) matches, but we want to challenge our players and our staff and everyone associated with the program," UT head coach Jerritt Elliott explains. "It's more about ourselves and our standards."
It's also been about what the Longhorns have learned along the way -- particularly what they're learning about themselves.
"We can play steady," Yogi says.
That fact has allowed the Longhorns to absorb something else they have come to understand.
"We're not perfect," setter Ashley Engle says.
But the Longhorns are showing an ability to overcome errors and adjust on the fly. They took on a scrappy, relentless Iowa State team and ran an offense almost on audible. UT also struggled with its blocking on Wednesday against Baylor, and that was again apparent in the first two sets against Iowa State.
UT talked about it during the intermission, and then applied the adjustments to the court. The Longhorns had six blocks in the final set, after combining for the same number in the first two.
"It's important that we can do that in the moment," Engle says of her team's ability to learn from itself.
The Longhorns' continual evolution is a product of the players, and their willingness to work as a unit bound by communication. They're constantly talking to one another, "How was that set? How did that feel?"
That has also allowed Elliott to take a calmer approach with the team. He's allowing the players to coach themselves, and that's put Elliott in a more motivational role.
Perhaps that was the plan all along. Even Elliott himself describes the schedule he assembled by hand as "gruesome."
"Anybody who comes to Texas is a competitor," Elliott says. "I think they enjoy it. It's part of our process."
A process that will hopefully lead to another dog pile.