Texas expected a tough battle against former Big 12 volleyball rival Nebraska over the weekend, and it certainly got one.
The Longhorns needed five sets Saturday for the first time this season to pull out a 3-2 win over Nebraska. Senior outside hitter Haley Eckerman, Amy Neal, junior libero and outside hitter, and Khat Bell, senior middle blocker and outside hitter, all recorded double-digit kills.
“We had a hard time finding our rhythm today,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “Nebraska played well, but we just couldn’t get our offensive system going, and we made a lot of errors that we haven’t been making.”
The battle started early on in the first set of the match for Texas. Neither side led by more than two points, with 13 ties throughout the set. However, Texas managed to close the set out 25-23 on a 5-2 run behind two kills each from Eckerman and Neal.
“We were fortunate to pull out game number one or else this could have been a different match,” Elliott said.
Momentum from the first set victory faded quickly in the second set. The Cornhuskers took an early 12-7 lead and never looked back. Although the Longhorns tied the set at 17 on a 6-2 run eventually, they were outscored 8-4 the rest of the set and fell 25-21.
The environment in Lincoln, stands packed with 8,312 fans, shook some of the new players on the court, especially early in the match.
“They couldn’t settle down,” Elliott said. “We challenged them pretty strongly in the locker room between games two and three, and I felt like we slowly got better as the match went on.”
Texas came out of the intermission break much stronger than it had been in the second set, taking a 9-6 lead before Nebraska fought back to a slim 13-11 go-ahead. However, unlike the second set, the Longhorns didn’t let the Cornhuskers’ run take over the match. Instead, they executed a 7-1 run to win the set 25-19.
In the fourth set, Texas found itself in a favorable position to close out the match, leading 14-11. But when Nebraska pulled off a 9-2 run, including seven straight points, to take a 20-15 lead, the Longhorns couldn’t rebound. Eckerman’s three kills elevated the Longhorns to a 23-22 lead, but a late 3-0 run gave the set to the Cornhuskers.
In contrast to the first four sets, Texas dominated the fifth set much more smoothly. The Longhorns jumped out to a 10-6 lead and closed with a 5-2 run to take the win.
Elliott said the team finally found its rhythm in the last set.
“We stayed a little more consistent, and I thought [Nebraska] started making some more errors and gave us some opportunities to widen the gap there,” Elliott said. “When you are a good blocking team and you play good defense, you can wear your opponent down.”
The victory marks Texas’ second win against a ranked opponent on the road this season. Eckerman led the Longhorns with 20 kills, while Neal posted a career day with 15 kills and 15 digs.
The Longhorns open up conference play Wednesday on the road against West Virginia.