The middle of the volleyball conference season can be the toughest time for some of the top teams.
The NCAA tournament is still a good distance away, classes are picking up as the semester winds down, and teams on the bubble are looking to score upsets to improve their résumé for the selection committee.
However, for the Longhorns, who are firmly in the tournament and looking to make another run at the national title, the struggle is to remain competitive.
“This is a tough time of the year,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “There are a lot of upsets that go on. We were susceptible to it last week, and, hopefully, we’ve learned from that.”
Texas closed out its stretch of three games in six days against Kansas State with a hard-fought 3-1 win, which saw the Longhorns rebound after being outplayed in the first set by the then-No. 22 Wildcats.
This week features a game Wednesday night and a game Saturday, and the level of play the Longhorns will face is far from easy.
On Wednesday, Texas faces West Virginia, a team that took the first two sets in the earlier meeting between the teams before the Longhorns swept the remaining sets to escape from Morgantown, West Virginia, with a win.
Saturday’s match is the Longhorns’ opportunity for revenge against Oklahoma. Back on Oct. 25, the Sooners became the first team since 2012 to beat Texas in Big 12 play and the first team since Minnesota in September 2012 to beat the Longhorns in Gregory Gym.
Since that loss to Oklahoma, however, Texas has rebounded in impressive fashion with three-straight conference wins. The Longhorns only dropped two sets in those three games and they outhit their opponents .266 to .144.
The improved play comes at a crucial time for Texas. The Mountaineers, who have no shot at the NCAA tournament thanks to a 3-8 conference record and 13-12 overall record, come into the match confident after taking two sets from Texas the first time around.
The Mountaineers also have one of the conference’s best hitters in sophomore outside hitter Jordan Anderson. Through 25 games this season, Anderson has accumulated 419 kills — 38 more than the next highest player in the conference. In the first meeting against Texas, Anderson had 19 kills and a .278 hitting percentage.
But the plan for the Longhorns is simple. After taking the weekend off for a mental and physical break, Texas is just looking to get into a rhythm.
“There aren’t a whole lot of things that we need to fix or change,” Elliott said. “It’s more about just playing more consistently. We have to be consistent with who we are.”