A rivalry at its finest, complete with the fanfare and invigoration of passionate fans split by conference realignment set the scene Friday night as Texas defeated Texas A&M 3-1 in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
While Bailey Webster and Haley Eckerman pounded 17 kills each, a mass of Aggies fresh from College Station along with an enthusiastic crowd of Texas fans filled Gregory Gym to the brim, bringing their signature spirit and loudness that upped the excitement of the Longhorns’ second NCAA tournament win.
“We had a very good offense,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “The numbers show that we were very efficient which is important if you want to advance in this tournament. We certainly plan to do that.”
The consistent Longhorns completed a solid first set with Bailey Webster’s five kills, but the Aggies trailed closely behind, keeping Texas on its toes and nearly snatching the Longhorns’ lead. Strong offensive performances allowed Texas to finish the set at 25-16.
The second set was characterized by missed balls and Aggie cheers as the suddenly frazzled Longhorns struggled to keep up. The Aggies nabbed the set with several streaks, concluding at 25-19 to tie the Longhorns 1-1 in the match.
“We needed a set to regroup and refocus, which we were able to do during halftime,” Webster said of the lost second set. “It worked out well for us.”
Texas battled in the third set point by point with nine tie scores and five lead changes, then took the reins with sturdy hits and polished off the set with a Sha’Dare McNeal kill.
A composed Texas dominated the fourth set with seven kills by Haley Eckerman, three straight points by Molly McCage and a strong seven-point streak that the Aggies were not able to catch up with, concluding the match 3-1.
Eckerman said bringing a rivalry back to Gregory Gym was an exciting part of the tournament for her.
“It is always great to play Texas A&M,” she said. “It was great to get the crowd involved, to be challenged and to have a great match against the Aggies.”
While the challenge and excitement that came with battling Texas A&M at home was apparent to fans, Elliott said etching another win on the team’s resume in the NCAA tournament meant more than defeating a rival team.
“As all season has proven, our team is steady and battles when the game is on the line,” Elliott said. “I was pleased with it.”
Friday night’s accomplishment set aside, the stakes rise and the competition grows in the next step of the tournament, Elliott said.
“Every match you start to see more physical players,” he said. “If it is Florida, it will be a battle. It will be a challenge. We have to play great and in order to do that we will have to have the crowds here.”
But for the hundreds of supporters decked in burnt orange or in maroon and white, Friday’s game was all about a rivalry brought back to life in an old gym, reminiscent of strong ties between two Texas schools that even a conference gap could never fully break.
Printed on Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 as: Longhorns defeat A&M, advance to third round