Texas volleyball head coach Jerritt Elliott scheduled No. 6 Florida for the last regular season match to give the Longhorns one final challenge before the NCAA tournament.
Saturday afternoon, Elliott and the Longhorns found that challenge and more against the SEC champion Gators, capping off regular season play with their second loss.
Florida seemed to handle everything Texas threw at it: blocking, senior outside hitter Haley Eckerman on the service line and sophomore middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu up the middle. Executing a dominant fifth set, the Gators overpowered the Longhorns.
“I think Florida played extremely well,” Elliott said. “We just weren’t very efficient from the start from the service line or serve receive line. We made mistakes late in the games, but I think it’s something we can learn from and grow from and keep moving.”
The dogfight kicked off from the start as neither side built a lead of more than 2 points until Texas took a 10-8 lead behind a kill from sophomore outside hitter Paulina Prieto Cerame and an attack error by Florida. The Gators later took a 22-19 lead before the Longhorns fought back with a 5-0 run.
“It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but it was important to, obviously, win the first game and take control of the match,” Elliott said.
The second set, though, belonged to Florida. The Gators jumped out to a quick 6-2 lead and never looked back before stealing the set 25-20. In the set, the Longhorns were held to just a .125 hitting percentage — their lowest of the match.
The third set started as a role reversal of the second set, as Texas jumped out to a quick 6-2 lead. The Longhorns eventually found themselves with a 22-21 lead late in the set, but the Gators went on a 4-1 run to take the set 25-23.
Texas won the fourth set to keep the match alive but dropped a back-and-forth fifth set 15-12.
With the win, the Gators avenge their loss to the Longhorns earlier this season in Gainesville, Florida. Elliott said Florida — especially sophomore right side Alex Holston, who had 29 kills — was much improved this time around.
“I thought their defense was really good and their passing was exceptional,” Elliott said. “Their out-of-system game was just better, some of their pin hitters we couldn’t control.”
Texas has now lost two of its last three regular season finales. In 2012, Texas finished regular season play with a 3-2 loss at Iowa State and then went on to win the national championship.
Ogbogu said the loss will motivate the team in the tournament.
“I think, if anything, this is going to make us hungrier and realize that this year, anyone can win the national championship,” Ogbogu said.
The Longhorns received the No. 2 overall seed and the top in the Minneapolis Region in this year’s championship bracket. Texas will open against Northwestern State at home Thursday. The winner faces either Texas A&M or Arizona State on Friday.