Last Saturday night, No. 8 Texas did something it hasn’t done since 1989 — beat No. 5 Penn State. Although the Longhorns went up two sets, a fifth set was required for Texas to defeat the four-time defending national champions.
“We’ve faced a lot of adversity already, just in terms of injuries and the teams we’ve been playing,” said freshman Haley Eckerman. “Against Penn State, we just knew that it was time to play together and that we were all going to play our best. We didn’t ride the emotional rollercoaster up and down.”
Head coach Jerritt Elliott was impressed with Eckerman’s courage. While she was subbing in for senior All-American Rachael Adams in the fifth set, Eckerman had a message for Adams.
“Haley said, ‘You’re not coming back in. I’m going to finish this game,’” Elliott said. “That was a lot to be said by a freshman and showed a lot of character. Obviously, it gave our team a lot of confidence.”
That composed, confident attitude led the Longhorns to their victory over the Nittany Lions. Elliott was proud of the team’s composure and confidence throughout the Nike Big Four Tournament last weekend and hopes that it continues throughout the season.
Going into the game against Penn State, the Longhorns had lost three games in a row.
“This group needs to learn how to win, and they need to be kind of in these battles,” Elliott said. “It was an emotional opponent that we haven’t been able to get by, so that was a big plus for us. And then beating the No. 2-ranked team in the country is another boost for us.”
He said the team was a lot more emotionally stable over the weekend.
In addition, the team’s passing, defensive discipline and blocking had improved greatly. But, he said the team was inconsistent in their productivity.
“There’s some games [where] we’re putting up 16 or 17 kills and some we’re only putting up 10 or 11,” Elliott said. “So, we’ve got to be able to find a little bit more balance.”
He believes the freshmen and sophomores are growing up very quickly, even though they haven’t played in many games. He also said the seniors and team leaders are aiding in their development.
Although the Longhorns are 3-3 on the season, Elliott purposely scheduled the young team a challenging preseason in an attempt to make them tougher. He believes the coaching staff has seen that thus far.
After two tournaments out of state, one in Minnesota and the other in California, the Longhorns are returning to Gregory Gym this weekend for the Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational where they will face Santa Clara, SMU and UTSA.
“They’re starting to see that they can be good, and it’s us being patient as a staff and letting them know that with time, we’ll continue to get better, and by the end, we can be special,” Elliott said.
Printed on Friday, September 16, 2011 as: Longhorns return home after ousting Penn St.