Volleyball's block party advances to regional round
Dec. 4, 2011
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
AUSTIN, Texas - Relentless, that's the word that came to Jerritt Elliott's mind.
The Texas Volleyball head coach has been waiting all season to use it, because, at their blocking best, that's exactly what his Texas Longhorns can be - relentless. Just ask Michigan State.
The Spartans fought their way into the NCAA Tournament by way of the Big Ten, a conference that sent a nation's-best eight teams to the tournament and home to physical powers Penn State, Nebraska and Illinois. Now, by virtue of a 16-block performance in a sweep NCAA Second Round victory at Gregory Gym, the Longhorns earned their reputation as well.
"Texas is the biggest collection of athletes across the board," Michigan State head coach Cathy George said.
The Longhorns travel to Lexington, Ky., to face the Kentucky Wildcats on their home floor in regional semifinal play. No. 8 Penn State, the defending national champion, and No. 9 UCLA face off in the other semifinal Friday. Winners of both matches meet in the regional final on Saturday.
"When I look at Penn State, I see them as probably the most physical team in the Big Ten," George said. "From a physicality perspective, (Texas) is right up there."
All-American middle blocker Rachael Adams brought a palpable energy and focus to the court. She stalked the net, eyes chasing scenarios and her body reacting in kind. Adams played as the experienced workhorse she is, and led the Longhorns to a season's-best 16 blocks in a three-set match.
The Longhorns previously logged 20 blocks in a 3-1 victory against Pepperdine to open the season on Aug. 26.
"We wanted to make a statement with our block tonight, and I think we did a very good job," said Adams, whose eight total blocks were a match high. "We were ready and disciplined."
The Spartans, now 1-11 against ranked opponents this season, tout a talented front line and average more than 13 kills per game. The Longhorns used seven blocks to silence Michigan State's attack, as the Spartans had 10 kills and nine errors in the opening frame.
UT pulled out a 25-11 set win, hitting .722 with zero hitting errors.
"I think we were just on a flow. We started out with our blocks, and with our rhythm, you couldn't stop us," Adams said.
The tall and imposing Longhorns tend to block with more technical attention against teams that rival their size.
Prior to Saturday, UT's best blocking performance in a three-set match was against Santa Clara in early September, when the Longhorns totaled 11.5. UT had 12 blocks through two sets against Michigan State.
"Tonight's blocking was exceptional. It just becomes relentless," Elliott said. "We know at times we can be very overwhelming on the offensive end, but if we can be good from the defensive side, there are different ways that we can score."