Volleyball's sweep of Aggies signals growth
Oct. 6, 2011
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
AUSTIN, Texas -- Wednesday night at Gregory Gym was an occasion for rivalry and revelation.
The 10th-ranked Texas Volleyball team dismantled the rival Texas A&M Aggies in three straight sets, all the while doing so in a manner that’s become custom for a program that’s stood among NCAA volleyball’s final four teams for the past three Decembers.
The Longhorns passed, set and swung. They slid, served and dug. And they did it together, with a cohesion and chorus that could propel them deep into another NCAA tournament.
UT hit .346 against the Aggies -- the Longhorns’ second-best mark of the season -- sided-out at 72 percent and limited A&M to just 33 kills on the night, well below the Aggies’ 14.2 kills per-set season average. In fact, five team blocks for the Longhorns in the first set jolted UT into a rhythm that was difficult to defend for the duration.
“We studied them really well, and we knew what they wanted to do and what we had to do to stop them,” setter Hannah Allison said. “When you play great defense, it puts you in a rhythm. Defensively, we wanted to make them change what they were doing.”
UT is now 3-1 in Big 12 play with a full week to prepare for next Wednesday’s home tilt with Texas Tech, but the State Farm Lone Star Showdown win against the Aggies signaled perhaps the first time this season that the Longhorns have played with fluidity and instincts for a complete match.
With libero Sydney Yogi’s nine digs stabilizing the back row, Allison was gifted with solid passes to convert into solid sets for her hitters. Khat Bell led all players with 12 kills on a season-best .611 hitting percentage, and three other Longhorns totaled at least eight kills.
“Everything starts with the pass. When we play strong and we play together, everything goes well,” said Bailey Webster, who finished with 10 kills on 19 swings. “It just comes with progress. We’re a great team together, and we work well together, but it takes time.”
Now in his 11th year as the helm of the Longhorns, head coach Jerritt Elliott has proven himself a sage. Patience and timely teaching are the consistent ingredients in turning these talented individuals into a dangerous team.
“Coaching is a lot about positioning your team to be successful,” Elliott said. “Being able to play our rival, and play consistently all the way through, was nice to see. It’s a good win against a good team.”
Adversity has followed the Longhorns from the beginning of this still-young season. But injuries are finally healing, and the battle scars from four-straight matches against Top 10 opponents in early September are turning into badges of courage.
When the Aggies battled back in set three to knot the score at 22, UT had the mental reserve not to flinch, and then relied on the confident Webster to take a pair of big swings which set up UT’s only necessary match point at 24-23.
“Volleyball is such a team sport that it’s hard to get that cohesion when there are so many ifs, ands or buts,” Allison said. “With the schedule that we’ve had, it’s challenged us, and that has helped us to grow together and come together to find a way to win.”