Success is something that No. 2 Texas volleyball has come to expect. With three national championships and 21 conference titles in school history, Texas has become a powerhouse.
Former star hitters such as Destinee Hooker, Bailey Webster and Haley Eckerman are just a few well known reasons for that success. They helped shape Texas’ reputation as a team with tall, dominant hitters leading a high-powered offense. However, the smaller players hidding behind the big Longhorn front line play an important offensive role.
“Our passing has been key to our offense,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “When we’re passing well, we can run our offense and play at a pretty high level.”
Although the last touch in a rally usually sparks the most emotion from a crowd, the first touch is arguably the most important. The quality of a pass affects how well the setter can get the ball to the hitter and sets the tone of the game. Back row players have mere seconds to read a hitter, prepare for the dig and get a good pass up for the setter.
“As a defender, you really have to be ready for anything,” senior libero Kat Brooks said. “When you have a great hitter coming at you, you don’t really know where they’re going to hit the ball, so we definitely make adjustments.”
The adjustments Texas’ passers have made since the start of the season have been on display recently. Brooks recorded 15 digs in a career performance against Oklahoma after an 11-game skid of single-digit digs. Sophomore libero Cat McCoy is averaging 14 digs per match, and junior setter Nicole Dalton has tallied 51 of her 57 digs in the last seven games.
“Our passing game has been getting better and better, and I think Nicole coming in in that defensive role has solidified that,” Elliott said. “We’re getting more confident in terms of the system that [assistant coach Erik Sullivan] wants from his passers, and we’re making improvements with our platforms.”
Texas kicks off the second half of conference play with a battle against TCU on the road on Wednesday in a game that will challenge the Longhorn passers.
The Horned Frogs competed well when these teams first played, despite Texas earning the win in straight sets. TCU out-dug the Longhorns in that game, as it has done against most of its opponents this season. The Horned Frogs (15-5, 5-3) are ranked fourth in the Big 12, and although their offense isn’t explosive, they do have six hitters with over 100 kills — a potential problem for Texas’ defense.
“TCU is playing very well and very disciplined,” Elliott said. “We’ll have to work real hard to be successful.”