Neal, Collins lead Texas to three straight sweeps

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Senior outside hitter Amy Neal, left, goes up for a hit against Rice in Texas’ season opener Friday. Neal finished the weekend with 33 kills and 28 digs en route to three straight victories over Rice, UC-Irvine and LSU.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

It took just nine sets and a true team effort for No. 3 Texas to start its 2015 campaign with three straight victories.

Texas hosted the American Campus Classic at Gregory Gym over the weekend and defeated Rice (25-12, 25-23, 25-14) in its season opener Friday evening, UC-Irvine (25-13, 25-7, 26-24) Saturday afternoon and LSU (25-12, 25-22, 25-21) later that night. Each game ended in a three-set sweep by the Longhorns in 90 minutes or less. Texas missed some opportunities and put itself in a few tight sets, but those situations were something head coach Jerritt Elliott wanted to see.

“I thought overall we played at a pretty high level,” Elliott said. “You expect some errors, and, as I told the team before, I didn’t expect them to be perfect. I wanted to see how we responded to each point.”

In its first game against Rice, Texas had a .333 team hitting percentage on 46 kills, improving its overall record against the Owls to 36-0. Ten Longhorn blocks kept the Rice offense at bay, holding them to a .067 hitting percentage and forcing 19 attack errors.

Junior outside hitter Paulina Prieto Cerame came out swinging and racked up six kills in the first set, but Rice adjusted and held her to just three in the next two. Seniors outside hitter Amy Neal and middle blocker Molly McCage took over, finishing with 11 and 10 kills, respectively. Junior setter Chloe Collins finished with 32 assists.

The Longhorns won their first two sets against UC-Irvine handily but struggled in the third. Texas’ defense was out-of-system late in the game, and its passers weren’t executing well, resulting in a few net violations and three reception errors, which led to several scoring runs for UC-Irvine.

Ultimately, UC-Irvine made passing mistakes of its own, and Texas followed with big blocks from McCage, junior middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu and freshman middle blocker Morgan Johnson to close out the game.

“I think teams get a little nervous when they’re playing against us and have an opportunity to win, and we know how to kick it up again,” Elliott said.

The final match against LSU was a consistent battle in the last two sets, but Texas stayed poised, and a solid performance from junior setter Chloe Collins helped Texas finish the weekend undefeated.

Collins had 30 assists, 12 digs and three kills against the Tigers. The Longhorn passers recovered from their shaky early game, highlighted by sophomore libero Cat McCoy’s 22 digs. Neal and senior defensive specialist Kat Brooks both added nine digs.
Neal acquired 33 kills, 28 digs and five service aces. Elliott said Neal acts as the glue holding Texas together, giving other players different looks, but Neal attributes her success to her teammates, particularly Collins.

“I can give a lot of credit to [Collins] putting up a lot of balls to give me a lot of confidence as I’m hitting. She has been running the court really well,” Neal said. “I think we are all grooving really
well together.”

Texas returns to Gregory Gym next weekend for the VERT Challenge to face No. 5 Nebraska on Friday night and No. 4 Florida on Saturday afternoon.