Texas faced defeat at the hands of a lower-ranked opponent Friday, then bounced back to sweep two other opponents Saturday at this weekend’s Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational at Gregory Gym.
The No. 23 Illinois Fighting Illini started the tournament with a five-set win over the No. 6 Longhorns, four led by Illinois freshman outside hitter Jocelynn Birks. Birks dominated the court with 21 kills and 12 digs, while Longhorn middle blocker/outside hitter Khat Bell and outside hitter Haley Eckerman had five kills each in the first set. The Longhorns took set one before Illinois hit .414 in the second set to even the match.
Illinois snapped a 12-12 tie in the third set to earn the 2-1 advantage, but strong plays by Eckerman and Bell in the fourth set forced a fifth. Illinois opened the set with a 5-2 run, but two kills by Eckerman allowed the Longhorns to take the lead. Subsequent Illinois blocks broke the 12-12 tie to give the Fighting Illini the win.
After Friday’s loss, Eckerman said team determination was key to bouncing back.
“I think all of us were motivated by doing what we need to do to score and just playing together as a team,” she said. “That was a big focus to just playing together, cheering, getting excited and pumping each other up.”
Texas returned Saturday to sweep Cincinnati 3-0, hitting .393 as a team. Junior setter Hannah Allison had a season-high 45 assists and two aces.
The Bearcats had a solid start with three unanswered points in the first set, but two blocks by Bell and outside hitter/setter Nicole Dalton secured the set for Texas. Freshman middle blocker Molly McCage and junior outside hitter Bailey Webster moved the second set along in Texas’s favor, but two Longhorn service errors late in the set kept adrenaline pulsing for both teams. Texas closed the set with a block from Webster and utility Madelyn Hutson to snag a 2-0 lead.
The Longhorns launched swiftly into the third set, tallying six straight points with a 19-10 lead. Nine Eckerman kills allowed Texas to claim the final set, completing the sweep.
Later that afternoon, Texas was back in Gregory Gym to face the University of Central Florida. Texas grabbed the reins in the first set, establishing an early lead with three consecutive Eckerman kills followed by eight straight points. Eckerman and Hutson each had four kills by the end of the set. The second set started out similarly with an initial 10-2 run and seven Eckerman kills. Texas finished the third set, 25-13, to finish the sweep.
“I thought we did a really good job with our serve receive,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said of Saturday’s matches. “We are trying to find a little more balance and thought we did a good job with that.”