Volleyball earns right to play for second straight weekend
Dec. 5, 2012
Elissa Schneiderman, Texas Media Relations
AUSTIN, Texas--With a second-round win over Texas A&M last Friday, No. 3 seed Texas Volleyball secured the right to advance to the NCAA Austin Regional this weekend. UT will take on No. 14 seed Florida on Friday (Dec. 7) in the Regional Semifinals.
For the Horns, playing at home has two crucial advantages. First, it allows the team to maintain their routines and remain in the rhythm they have built for themselves. Second, they will enjoy the opportunity to play at Gregory Gym in front of an enthusiastic and supportive home crowd.
"When Gregory Gym sells out, it's a huge advantage for us," head coach Jerritt Elliott said. "I'm hoping the city of Austin realizes that and comes out, supports us, and makes this a phenomenal atmosphere for all the student athletes."
This is especially important as UT will face a competitive slate of regional opponents. Early this season, the Longhorns produced a 3-0 sweep over Florida on Aug. 31 in University Park, Pa. Since then, however, the Gators (27-4, 19-1) have gone on to win the Southeastern Conference.
"We approach (the post season) one match at a time," Elliott said. "We know this is a very tough bracket to come out of. We have our hands full. For us (as coaches), it's about getting the team in a relaxed frame of mind and being in our routines--not over thinking this, not changing things, and getting to a point where we can play at a high level."
With three freshmen in the regular rotation, this Longhorn squad is characterized by a balance of youth and experience. For the newcomers, playing in the NCAA Tournament can be an overwhelming experience. Fortunately, Elliott said his younger athletes have a considerable amount of experience playing at a high level. Perhaps more importantly, the upperclassmen and team captains have taken on the responsibility of preparing the younger women mentally and emotionally for the tournament.
"I'm a little nervous," freshman middle blocker Molly McCage said. "But I have a lot of faith in my team. I know that we'll all work hard in practice and give everything we have against Florida and then, hopefully go on to the next round. I have to keep calm and collected because that is what our team is all about."
Elliott is satisfied with where his team is positioned heading into Friday's match. He is particularly pleased with the progress and balance of his middle blockers. Sophomore middle blocker/outside hitter Khat Bell is healthy and hitting her stride, as well as providing crucial on-court leadership.
"To have strong and quick middles and to be able to work with Khat on the court is amazing," McCage said. "We have to have a good solid block for our defense to work around. So having those disciplined middles really helps out our team."
In order to advance, Texas had to defeat a hard-hitting Texas A&M team last Friday. After winning set one, the Horns dropped set two. Freshman libero Kat Brooks said her team went into the locker room for intermission and calmed themselves down. They emerged for set three ready to reclaim the match.
"We realized there was a chance that we could lose the set and go home," Brooks said. "We really didn't want that to happen. We wanted to come out and play our hardest for our fans."
Ultimately, Elliott believes his team has improved since exiting the 2011 NCAA Tournament in the Elite Eight on a loss to defending national champion UCLA.
"I think anytime you can reflect and grow, that's important," Elliott said. "They've been determined since that loss. They came in and worked all summer long. They've worked really hard to earn the right to be in this Regional in front of the home crowd."
The Longhorns have their sights set on this year's NCAA Championship, but before they earn a spot in Louisville, they have two challenging opponents to face in Austin. They are preparing game by game, starting with the Gators.
"We're very focused on what Florida could do," Elliott said. "More importantly, we need to focus on our side of the ball, be good at our routines and play smart volleyball. It's going to come down to a few points. We're a confident bunch and we believe in what we can do."