Pilar Victoria

No. 3 Texas looks to remain undefeated when it travels to face No. 11 Florida on Saturday.

The Longhorns (3-0) had an easy time against last weekend’s competition in the Lobo Classic, but the Gators (3-0) present a more difficult challenge — a challenge head coach Jerritt Elliott is excited about.

“We like to schedule tough,” Elliott said. “We need to schedule tough. Especially, when we’re on the road in the regionals, I want to put them in some environments where they’re going to be tested both physically and emotionally.”

Texas looks to carry over recent momentum into its match against Florida and for sophomore outside hitter Pilar Victoria to build off her early-season dominance.

Victoria opened the season with a career high 14 kills against UTEP, and she looks forward to being challenged by Florida.

“Right now, we’re very excited,” Victoria said. “It’s very nice to test ourselves.”

While the Longhorns are prepared for the tough competition Florida presents, Elliott knows a loss isn’t the end of the world.

“Our goal is to win every match,” Elliott said. “But, we can learn a lot from winning and losing.”

Texas’ match against Florida can be seen on the SEC Network on Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

The 2014 season has already started well for Pilar Victoria. 

The sophomore outside hitter led the Longhorns in kills in two of the three Lobo Classic matches and took home MVP honors as No. 2 Texas opened up its season with three straight wins.

“I’m obviously really excited about the results of the weekend,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We got to look at a lot of players and see how they performed in a live situation.”

The strong weekend for Victoria began early, as she gave Texas a 1-0 lead in its first set against UTEP on Friday morning. The Longhorns went on to win the set 25-23, the closest set of the weekend, and then jumped out to an early 8-3 lead in the second set, thanks in part to back-to-back kills by Victoria. She finished the match with a career-high 14 kills in the win.

In the nightcap against New Mexico, Victoria carried over her momentum, bookending the first set with kills. She struggled in the second set with three straight shots that were blocked by the Lobos. However, she bounced back with four kills in the third set as Texas finished off the sweep.

Victoria didn’t have quite the same success Saturday against Seattle, but junior outside hitter Amy Neal and junior middle blocker Sara Hattis each had a career match to help the Longhorns to another sweep and the Lobo Classic title. Neal posted a career-high 11 kills and Hattis had nine blocks in her homecoming to New Mexico.

Victoria finished the tournament with a team-high 32 kills, as well as 23 digs. Coming off a freshman campaign in which she had 60 kills and a .250 hitting percentage, Victoria said she’s already feeling better about this season.

“I feel more comfortable and more trust for my teammates and coaches,” Victoria said. “I am seeing things from a different perspective than I did my freshman year.”

In addition to winning the MVP award for the tournament, Victoria was also named to the All-Tournament team, along with Neal and sophomore utility player Nicole Dalton, who is coming off a medical redshirt last year following right hip surgery.

With a stacked roster this year, Elliott was glad to see the younger players perform from the start.

“It’s great when you get to see the younger players helping develop our program like [Victoria and Neal],” Elliott said. “They are playing at a high level and it shows that we have a lot of talent and potential as a team.”

The Longhorns averaged a nine-point margin victory across all nine sets and outhit their opponents .331 to .075.

Texas travels to Gainesville to face Florida on Saturday before opening up its home schedule with the Longhorn Classic next weekend.

Senior setter Hannah Allison and the Longhorn volleyball team hold a 1-8 record against rival No. 1 Penn State, which will travel to Austin this weekend for the Big Four Volleyball Classic.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

This weekend Texas will write another chapter in what is perhaps its most competitive rivalry, but the game won’t be against Oklahoma.

The No. 6 Longhorns (2-1) will host No. 1 Penn State (2-0) as a part of the Nike Volleyball Big Four Classic after taking two of three matches in Hawaii to start their season. Texas holds a 1-8 record against Penn State, including a loss in the 2009 National Championship, where the Longhorns won two sets but fell to a furious Nittany Lions rally. But after the Longhorns won a title of their own last season, the rivalry has reached an even greater magnitude.

“I would say there’s a rivalry, but it’s not really a hated rivalry. It’s more of a respectful rivalry,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “When you have programs that respect each other and they know what it’s all about, it’s always kind of a measuring stick for both teams to see how you go about the business.”

The Longhorns faced Penn State last season when the Nittany Lions swept Texas at State College, Pa. Now the rivalry moves to Gregory Gym — Texas is 96-4 since 2007 at home — where the results may be different.   

“It’s awesome playing here, especially when Gregory is full, and I just think our crowd really helps us and gives us momentum a lot,” sophomore Amy Neal said. “It’s going to be really competitive as always, but now it’s here so it’ll be a whole different story.”

Texas seems to take strides every season, but Penn State does the same. The team knows the path to the national championship will go through the Nittany Lions.

“Penn State will always be in the mix,” Elliott said. “I think it’s the tradition, when you win that much, it makes the best players want to go there.”

Although Texas lost its No. 1 ranking last weekend, the team showed resiliency and unparalleled talent in all three games. All-American outside hitter Haley Eckerman notched a team-high 28 kills while freshman Pilar Victoria added 25 of her own to lead the Longhorns.

“We didn’t go in expecting to win everything but we learned a lot about our team [in the loss],” Neal said. “We learned we have a lot of improvement to do which is a good thing because we know we can get a lot better.”

While players like Khat Bell and Neal have experienced the Penn State rivalry on numerous occasions, new faces like Victoria are eager to feel the intensity of such a high level of volleyball.  

“I’m very excited because this is going to be my first match here in Gregory Gym,” Victoria said. “The game is a lot faster here than at the international level. I’m really excited to play against Penn State, and I’m a little nervous, but that’s normal.”

Penn State holds five national championships in school history, including four straight from 2007-2010. With a win, Texas will make a statement: It’s ready to start a dynasty of its own.

In addition to the game against Penn State, Texas will host another powerhouse, No. 2 Stanford. There is plenty of experience to be gained, and this matchup with the best teams will test the defending champions.

“Obviously we’d like to go in and win these matches and that’s the priority right now, but we’re learning so much about our team,” Elliott said. “That’s the important thing I’m taking away from this, trying to get our team ready for the Big 12 and get back to the Final Four.”