Longhorns gear up for tough road game at Kansas

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Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns will pack their bags, board a plane and head to the Midwest this weekend for their toughest road test yet.

No. 2 Texas (17–2, 9–0 Big 12) looks to defend its undefeated conference record against No. 6 Kansas (19–2, 8–1) in Lawrence on Saturday. The two conference powers collided in Austin one month ago, resulting in a 3-1 Texas victory.

Despite the Jayhawks’ recent run of success, the Longhorns have triumphed in every match in Lawrence since 2004. Kansas nearly clashed with Texas in last year’s NCAA Tournament in the championship round. The Jayhawks fell 3-1 to Nebraska in the Final Four, depriving the Big 12 opponents from an additional meeting.

Since losing to Texas in September, Kansas has rallied with seven straight victories. The team remains undefeated at home. And the Longhorns know they must strengthen their defense and limit mistakes to come out of Lawrence unscathed.

“We’ve been working on our defensive mentality and what our rhythm is defensively,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “Because of [the target] we have on our back, teams are playing out of their mind.”

Service errors have been the Longhorns’ Achilles heel throughout the season; Texas ranks second from the bottom in the Big 12 in service aces. After recording double-digit errors in the category in four straight October matches, Texas took massive strides against Oklahoma, nearly eliminating the issue in the final two sets.

“We know we can be a good serving team,” Elliott said. “That is the biggest thing, is getting comfortable with serving in front of fans and serving at a high level. When we do that, it gets teams out of the system.”

The offense has improved as Texas has become more middle-blocker-oriented. The Longhorns have recorded at least 20 blocks four times in conference play, led by the emergence of sophomore middle blockers Morgan Johnson and Yaazmeen Bedart-Ghani.

Although a familiar opponent, Texas must accelerate its level of play on the road to emerge victorious in Lawrence. Both of Texas’ losses came against top-10 opponents in No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 1 Nebraska. 

“It would be awesome to get a sweep against Kansas,” junior outside hitter Ebony Nwanebu said. “Kansas is a really good team, so we want to do what we did [against Oklahoma] and stay with it and be calm.”

The Longhorns and Jayhawks begin play at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.