Paulina Prieto Cerame

Photo Credit: Mike McGraw | Daily Texan Staff

Texas volleyball entered the season with two goals: win the Big 12 title and win a national championship. However, after a loss to Oklahoma on Oct. 25, the first goal was in jeopardy.

While the Longhorns’ loss to the Sooners hurt Texas’ Big 12-title hopes, it helped the team refocus and fueled them to four-straight Big 12 wins.

“We are focusing on doing well in the conference,” sophomore outside hitter Paulina Prieto Cerame. “Our main goal is to win the national championship, but we also want to win our conference. Because we have a loss, that puts a little more pressure on our backs. We embrace that.”

With a 3-0 sweep against West Virginia on Nov. 7 and an Oklahoma loss to Iowa State on Wednesday, No. 5 Texas (19-1, 11-1 Big 12) can now clinch the Big 12 championship against the Sooners on Saturday night.

With a victory against Oklahoma, Texas would win its seventh conference title in eight years.

But the task won’t be easy. In the October match against Oklahoma, Texas had a below average .230 hitting percentage, committed 15 attack errors, 14 service errors and two blocking errors. Also in that game, Oklahoma’s kill leader, junior outside hitter Kierra Holst, recorded 16 kills. Despite Texas’ poor performance in its first game against the Sooners and Holst’s dominating performance, head coach Jerritt Elliott is looking forward to the rematch.

“I think it’s something that we need,” Elliott said. “It’s something that’s exciting to be a part of. I think they’re feeling pretty confident about playing us after they beat us 3-0. We feel like we can play at a much different level. I would imagine our girls would come in with a little bit of an edge. It’ll be a chaotic environment for us. It’s everything that we need as we prepare for the tournament.”

Elliott will hope to replicate Texas’ performance against West Virginia, as the Longhorns recorded a season high .512 hitting percentage. He will also continue to rely on senior outside hitter Haley Eckerman, who amassed 18 kills and four aces against the Mountaineers.

Like Prieto Cerame, Eckerman recognizes that the Longhorns have played much better since suffering their only loss this season.

“We’ve obviously gotten better from that match on, and that’s the biggest thing,” Eckerman said. “It’s not like we have to get revenge. We’re just going to go in there the same way we have. We aren’t going to treat it any differently. We’re just going to use it as a target on our backs.”

Texas and Oklahoma square off Saturday at 7 p.m.

“Hopefully [Oklahoma] can play well and we can play at our peak and we can come out with a win,” Elliott said. “We have a chance to clinch on their home court.”

Senior middle blocker Khat Bell (1) and Texas suffered their first loss of 2014 against Oklahoma on Oct. 25, but they are looking to rebound against Texas Tech on Wednesday.
Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

No. 5 Texas volleyball (16-1, 8-1 Big 12) is looking to create a new Big 12 winning streak when it takes on Texas Tech on Wednesday.

After Oklahoma snapped the Longhorns’ 23-game winning streak, Texas is back to working on its goal of winning a Big 12 title and a national championship.

“From now on, we are focusing on doing well in the conference,” sophomore outside hitter Paulina Prieto Cerame said. “Our main goal is to win the national championship, but we also want to win our conference. Because we have a loss, that puts a little more pressure on our backs.”

Within the conference, No. 22 Kansas State and No. 24 Oklahoma are both only one game back from Texas. Head coach Jerritt Elliott said the team needs to step up for the
remainder of the season.

“[After the Oklahoma game] we went back and had some meetings, watched some film and, ultimately, we have to get back and be motivated,” Elliott said. “I think it’s the toughest time of the year, where there are a lot of upsets based on the season being so long. Hopefully, we will see a much different team.”

Since losing to Oklahoma, Texas got its first Big 12 test against Iowa State on Sunday. The Longhorns came out a little rusty but ended up claiming a 3-1 victory.

However, the Longhorns now face another challenge as they travel to Lubbock to play Texas Tech. 

Texas has already defeated Texas Tech once this season — a sweep on Oct. 9 that saw senior middle blocker Khat Bell lead the Longhorns with 10 kills, while senior outside hitter Haley Eckerman and Prieto Cerame added an additional nine kills apiece. Prieto Cerame also led the team with five blocks, and freshman libero Cat McCoy had 14 digs.

While the Longhorns had an easy time getting past the Red Raiders earlier this season, Elliott knows playing on the road is always a test.

“Some teams are different, but I think it’s a 3- or 4-point difference when you’re on the road per game,” Elliott said. “There’s an urgency. It [was] a very tough road test at Iowa State. Then we will come back [and play on the road against] Texas Tech.”

Although playing on the road is tough, Prieto Cerame said that if the Longhorns can get back to their normal routines, they’ll have no problem beating the Red Raiders and accomplishing their long-term goals.

“I think maybe we weren’t doing some of our typical routines when we played Oklahoma, and I think what we were doing before was good for us,” Prieto Cerame said. “We just need to keep our focus and play hard.”

Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

The two matches against China’s Zhejiang club team came at the right time for the Texas volleyball.

After falling to rival Oklahoma at home for its first conference loss since 2012 and losing some of its momentum from a previously undefeated season, Texas rebounded with two wins this week over one of China’s best club volleyball teams.

“I think we did get better, and we tried some different lineups, and that’s good for us,” sophomore outside hitter Paulina Prieto Cerame said. “Some people got experience they weren’t able to do before, and it was a good learning experience, and we’re ready to go back to the Big 12.”

The No. 5 Longhorns return to their normal conference play in time to start the second half of the Big 12 season, beginning Sunday at Iowa State.

“With the loss, we’re now in a race with Oklahoma, and we’ve got to make sure there’s some urgency here,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said.

Before falling to Oklahoma, it had been 23 matches since the Longhorns had last lost a conference match. Since that last loss, which came at Iowa State, Texas won a national title and posted an undefeated conference record last year.

But the Oklahoma game has brought the team back to Earth. After posting 12 service errors, which got the ball rolling with other mistakes, Prieto Cerame said it was a learning experience for the team.

“It just showed us that, if you don’t show up, anybody can show up and beat you,” Prieto Cerame said.

Iowa State has struggled this season, though. After being picked to finish third in the Big 12, the Cyclones have only managed to pull together a 3-5 conference record, which includes road losses to Baylor and TCU. Iowa State ranks first in the conference in assists and digs but is at or near the bottom in almost every other statistical category.

Despite the struggles, Iowa State has played well at home in the Hilton Coliseum, posting a perfect 3-0 record in conference play. Elliott said the biggest reason Iowa State plays so tough against the Longhorns is because of the confidence the Cyclones have at home.

“They feel comfortable there,” Elliott said. “They’ve got a big crowd there, and when we go in there they’re probably going to have eight to 10 thousand people that are going to be yelling at us and get us off our game.”

With Texas no longer undefeated and having to fend off Oklahoma and Kansas State, which are both 6-2 in the Big 12, for the remaining eight conference games, Prieto Cerame said it’s just about discipline now.

“We have to focus in practices being good from the beginning to the end,” Prieto Cerame said. “That should also be in the games and not making dumb errors.”