Bell, blocking step up again for No. 9 Volleyball
Oct. 13, 2012
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
AUSTIN, Texas - The Texas Longhorns showed Friday night that the pieces are working. Jerritt Elliott and ninth-ranked Texas Volleyball remain unbeaten in Big 12 play following a physical 3-0 victory against No. 21 Kansas.
The Longhorns won their seventh straight match with program power, witnesses through a willful dominance at the net. Khat Bell planted a career-high 10 blocks while Haley Eckerman plowed 16 kills into the Gregory Gym hardwood.
The Jayhawks, however, persisted as the foil of momentum throughout play. With a match-high 50 digs, KU presented a frustrating shield to the Longhorns' swinging hitters.
So, Bell and UT answered by turning a defensive foundation into offensive strategy. With 11 team blocks, the Longhorns both smothered Jayhawk rhythm and balanced their own. It marks the seventh time in past eight matches that UT has logged at least 11 blocks.
"They're in better basic positions in terms of their starting position, and they're making better reads," Elliott said. "They're letting themselves be more of an athlete instead of biting on so many situations."
Bell relied on instincts for the final stretch of the game. Kansas was poised to force a fourth set up 22-19, but the Longhorns rallied for a 26-24 match-clinching win. UT's final two points came from Bell's timely jumping, outstretched frame.
When playing as a middle blocker, Bell brings her appetite for scoring to a position that
demands a defensive workhorse. She's pulled toward the ball, and it that strong force
also influenced Madelyn Hutson. Elliott inserted the 6-foot-5 sophomore on UT's second
match point. Together, Hutson and Bell affected two-straight swings, the final landing
on KU's side of the net.
"I think it's about us working together," Bell said. "We do block together in the middle as far as practicing and hitting. [We rely on] our communication with each other."
The Jayhawks forced UT to find systematic solutions in all three sets, and they held late leads in both the second and third sets. Eckerman's placement and power keyed UT into the halftime lockerroom with a 2-0 lead.
The open pins were a result of a early quick-middle sets to Molly McCage. Those jolts pushed the Longhorns to a 25-14 first-set win and a .440 team hitting percentage - UT's best of the night.
"Early on, that was really good. We struggled a little bit in (in the second set) with that," Elliott said. "They were stepping out hard on Sha'Dare (McNeal) and so we decided to kind of switch our middle blockers so Khat could hit more two balls. Our players did a nice job, but our middles are getting better at transitions and making themselves available. Hannah (Allison) is going a good job of getting more comfortable setting them.
"I like what I'm seeing. We'll get there."
Nine conference contests remain, including a road-trip to Kansas on Nov. 10.
"This is always a tough time for all teams. The beginning of the year is kind of warm-up," Elliott said. "The NCAA tournament is closer.
"We're going to do a really good job of getting our players rest," We're telling them to take a nap, do some homework and get themselves to de-stress. It doesn't get any easier in this conference."