Volleyball's tough stretch concludes with rival Aggies
Oct. 4, 2011
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
AUSTIN, Texas -- The Texas Longhorns are in the final 24 hours of a nine-day stretch that coach Jerritt Elliott calls the “most important time of our season.”
It began with a humbling five-set loss against the Oklahoma Sooners, in front of the second-largest crowd in the history of OU’s arena, continued to a raucous Iowa State gym where the Longhorns were the victors in five emotional sets and concludes Wednesday, when UT hosts rival Texas A&M in the annual State Farm Lone Star Showdown match at Gregory Gym.
“It was a good week in terms of our growth,” Elliott said. “It’s good because it’s forcing our players to stay ready and be very focused. They’re growing and learning. They’re not perfect, but they’re fighting and I still think we can be a special group. “This (A&M) match is the one match where we have to calm our players down. It’s a great rivalry. We respect their program, and they always play us tough.”
Last Wednesday against the Sooners, the Longhorns were doomed by 17 errors in the first set and the emotional roller coaster that comes with being a young team. Unable to establish a rhythm or show their personality, the Longhorns needed a locker room talking-to after the second set to muster resolve, avoid a sweep and force five sets.
Then Elliott led another hour-long meeting in the locker room after the match, and he and his coaching staff challenged the players to determine not just the team the Longhorns wanted to be, but also the work ethic and commitment necessary to get there.
“We probably had our best practice of the year when we came back on Friday,” sophomore Sarah Palmer said.
UT took that focus to the Cyclones’ gym, and this time emerged victorious in five sets. The Longhorns are now 2-2 in five-set matches, with all of them coming against ranked opponents.
“We definitely didn’t give up, and even though it went five, we were fighting the whole match,” Palmer said. “We kept communicating with each other in the front row and the back row, and we all knew what was going on. We didn’t just fall over every time a few points didn’t go our way. We played more as a team.”
That’s been Elliott’s call to action for his Longhorns all season -- take all your talent and harness it together as one unit.
“The great thing about coaching them is they are committed to one another and they’re bought in and they continue to get (more consistent) over longer periods of time,” Elliott said. “They’re getting more confident. They’re growing up fast, and they’re having to. For me, it’s fun to coach this kind of journey, because we know they’re only going to get better. It’s a team that can be very dominant.”
Now another emotional test is in store for the Longhorns, who have won 13 of the past 14 meetings against the rival Aggies. However, this match will be A&M’s last trip to Gregory Gym as conference foes.
“It’s good for us to be put in these situations,” senior Amber Roberson said. “Even when things get shaky, we still have to find a way to fight through. Against Iowa State, we pretty much battled. I feel like we’ve always had a good (team) connection, but we’re figuring out who to use it to our best advantage now.”