As No. 2 Texas clawed its way back from a two-set deficit against West Virginia, it relied on its depth, as it has time and time again this season, to come back and remain undefeated.
Throughout the season, head coach Jerritt Elliott has proclaimed that the team’s strength is its balance. While the Longhorns have reliable upperclassmen — senior outside hitter Haley Eckerman, senior outside hitter/middle blocker Khat Bell, junior outside hitter Amy Neal and junior middle Molly McCage — it’s Texas’ ability to utilize all of its players that has helped it excel this season.
“The nice thing about our program is that we have a ton of depth,” Elliott said. “The depth is challenging in the gym environment. You’ve got to perform on a daily basis in our practice gym to get a spot on the court. When we get into matches, we’ve got a lot of confidence in people we can pull off the bench.”
The difficult practices have been noticeable to the players, but Neal said they welcome it.
“In our gym and practice, it’s super competitive, which makes everyone train really hard,” Neal said. “On any given day, anyone’s spot can be taken. But I think it makes everyone get a lot better that we’re so deep because we challenge each other in every aspect of our game.”
The tough atmosphere in the Longhorn practice gym has translated well to gameplay. Throughout their first nine games of the season, the Longhorns have used a variety of lineups and have managed to rotate every player on their roster into a game. The team has totaled 418 kills, led by Eckerman with 78, followed by Neal with 67. Texas has also recorded 435 digs this season with the help of freshman libero Cat McCoy, who leads the team with 131.
The Longhorns have used their entire roster to claim 27 of the 32 sets they’ve played. The team’s balance is what helped Texas win against then No. 11 Florida, ease past then No. 21 Arizona, squeak by then No. 9 Nebraska and come back Wednesday night to beat Big 12 foe West Virginia. Texas remains undefeated through its first nine games this season and pushed its Big 12 winning streak to 17 games Wednesday, all with a balanced approach.
“I think it’s been really fun to be undefeated,” Neal said. “We’ve been tested in a lot of different environments, and that’s helped us become better and train better in the gym. Being undefeated is cool, but any team can come out any given day and beat you.”
The Longhorns fell a game short of playing for the national championship last season and are hoping to get back to that stage this season.
“At the end of the day, we all want the same goal,” sophomore setter Chloe Collins said. “There’s no individual goal. The ultimate goal is to be in a national championship with your team.”