In a weekend of highs and lows, Texas beat an opponent with a higher hitting percentage and succumbed to a lower-ranked opponent at last weekend’s Nike Big Four Tournament, marking the team’s first loss after five straight 3-0 sweeps.
Texas took on No. 18 Florida Friday, with outside hitter Haley Eckerman posting 16 kills and three service aces to push the Longhorns toward a 3-0 sweep against the Gators. In a match sprinkled with strong performances, outside hitter Bailey Webster had 13 kills, while middle blocker/outside hitter Khat Bell had a season-high 10 kills, hitting .533. Florida’s outside hitter Ziva Recek led the game with 22 kills.
The Gators had an early lead in the third set, but two hitting errors allowed the Longhorns to catch up. After two Gator blocks tied the game at 23-23, Webster closed the set with two straight kills, completing the 3-0 sweep.
“I liked our demeanor and the way we approached each point,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We made plays when it counted, and that tells me a lot about this team. Florida really tested us today.”
The Gators have never been a particularly easy opponent. Texas hasn’t defeated Florida since Dec. 7, 2007. Texas is now 6-12 all-time against Florida.
“My team brought me up from the get-go today,” sophomore Bell said. “I was struggling a bit mentally as far as my performance early, but then I was looking at [Sha’Dare] McNeal, Bailey [Webster], Haley [Eckerman] and they were able to bring me up.”
On Saturday, the Longhorns were swept by No. 4 Penn State on its home grounds in University Park, Pa. Elliott said he saw the Penn State match as a good opportunity for his young team.
A strong Penn State defense held Eckerman and Bell to .231 hitting nights, with Webster hitting .172 on 11 kills. Penn State setter Micha Hancock had 34 assists, five kills, five digs and two aces.
Eckerman tied it up in the first set at 19-19, but Texas committed a service error and two hitting errors, allowing Penn State to take the first set with two more kills. In the third set, Webster tied it at 18-18, but back-to-back Penn State blocks allowed the Nittany Lions to pull away, completing the 3-0 sweep.