The Longhorns were cruising.
Texas entered a matchup at TCU on Oct. 28, 2015 with a 16-game Big 12 win streak. But the Horned Frogs shocked the Longhorns and snapped the streak in three straight sets. The loss still remains the Longhorns’ only Big 12 defeat since 2014.
“I give a lot of credit to TCU,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said after the match. “Ultimately, they just wanted it more.”
TCU has taken a step back since last year’s fourth place conference finish, ranking No. 6 in the Big 12 this year. But the team can still pull off upsets. The team topped then-No. 8 North Carolina in five sets in September.
The Horned Frogs count on their middle blockers for their offensive production. Seniors Natalie Gower and Regan McGuire rank No. 2 and No. 8 in the conference in both hitting percentage and blocks.
Even with two standout players in the middle, Elliott acknowledges TCU’s versatility throughout its roster.
“They’ve been mixing up their lineup so much,” Elliott said. “We really have no idea what they’re going to put in there. They’ve been running a 6-2, which has been where we struggle a little bit. They have three solid hitters.”
Texas (14–2, 6–0 Big 12) enters the match coming off a road win against Baylor, where four outside hitters recorded double-digit kills. Freshman Micaya White and junior Ebony Nwanebu led the way with 16 kills a piece. The duo helped senior setter Chloe Collins finish her sixth match with at least 50 assists this season.
“I think just having those type of weapons makes my job just a lot more easier and a lot more fun,” Collins said, “Just knowing I can set either one of them and they will put the ball away and be a forced to be reckoned with.”
The Longhorns also made some much-needed strides on defense. Texas out-blocked Baylor 16–3 as senior defensive specialist Nicole Dalton and junior libero Cat McCoy both finished with double-digit digs.
“Offensively, our numbers have been really good,” Elliott said. “Defensively, they haven’t really been matching years’ past. And Baylor was the first time we did a really nice job with that.”
Texas attributes some of its recent defensive emergence to sophomore Yaasmeen Bedart-Ghani, who recently switched from outside hitter to middle blocker. In the past two matches, Bedart-Ghani has racked up a team-high 11 total blocks, an efficient .593 hitting percentage and 17 kills.
“We just kind of tested it out and we didn’t know how I was going to do there,” Bedart-Ghani said. “I don’t think I’ve played middle since like eighth grade, but thankfully it’s working.”
Texas eyes its sixth-straight Big 12 title. But the team isn’t looking too far ahead.
Conference matches have been more challenging for the Longhorns in 2016 compared to recent years, with two of their last hree matches going to five sets. Now they look to take it one game at a time, starting with TCU at home on Wednesday.
“The regular season can’t get complacent,” Collins said. “Our coaches do a great job of reminding us you shouldn’t have that feeling. It’s a fight every single day to get better because when it does become tournament time, there’s no time to waste.”