Volleyball regains form as it knocks off top two in nation

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In back-to-back matches, the No. 6 Longhorns knocked off the top two teams in the country in front of sold-out home crowds. 

As part of the Nike Volleyball Big Four Classic, where four of the top schools in the country come together, No. 1 Penn State, No. 2 Stanford and No. 8 Florida each made the trip to Austin. 

The Longhorns started the weekend by knocking off top-ranked Penn State on Saturday in a five-set thriller, as a record-setting 4,373 fans packed gym for the home opener.

“I want to thank the fans and the alumni for coming out,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We’ve been striving to get sold-out crowds and that was a big part in us being able to pull this match out.”

Last year the Longhorns lost in three sets to the Nittany Lions, and Elliott summed up the difference between the matches in simple terms: “We’re at home.”

Penn State took the first game in a back-and-forth battle, holding on for a 27-25 victory, but the Longhorns came back firing, tying the match with a 25-17 Game 2 victory. But the back-and-forth battle continued with the Nittany Lions winning Game 3 25-13 and the Longhorns staving off defeat with a 25-21 emotional Game 4. 

In Game 5, the Longhorns, sparked by the deafening crowd, outplayed Penn State down the stretch pulling away for a 15-10 victory. 

“We got in a good rhythm and controlled the match in every game but Game 3,” Elliott said. “I also liked our mentality throughout the match.”

On Sunday, the Longhorns closed their weekend with a 3-1 victory over the Cardinal. 

“I think later in the season [Stanford and Penn State] will be way better than what they are now,” sophomore outside hitter Amy Neal said. “But so will we.”

So, while the wins are significant, finding a solid lineup might be the biggest success of the weekend.

Earlier in the week, Elliott talked about working to find a lineup that gelled, and it appears he has found it.

“We got a unique situation with two of the best outsides in the country, and we need ball control around them,” Elliott said. “We developed a system to give us more ball control, and today I thought our defense was exceptional.”

Neal and freshman Pilar Victoria helped anchor a strong defensive unit from the outside slots. Chloe Collins and senior Hannah Allison rotated as setter, helping give the Longhorns a bigger unit at the net.

Leaving the weekend with wins over the top two teams in the country gives Texas momentum heading into next weekend’s matches against top-25 opponent Illinois. 

“It’s early,” Elliott said. “We potentially could get some big RPI points to become a top seed. We still have some big challenges on the road next weekend at Illinois.”