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Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

The two matches against China’s Zhejiang club team came at the right time for the Texas volleyball.

After falling to rival Oklahoma at home for its first conference loss since 2012 and losing some of its momentum from a previously undefeated season, Texas rebounded with two wins this week over one of China’s best club volleyball teams.

“I think we did get better, and we tried some different lineups, and that’s good for us,” sophomore outside hitter Paulina Prieto Cerame said. “Some people got experience they weren’t able to do before, and it was a good learning experience, and we’re ready to go back to the Big 12.”

The No. 5 Longhorns return to their normal conference play in time to start the second half of the Big 12 season, beginning Sunday at Iowa State.

“With the loss, we’re now in a race with Oklahoma, and we’ve got to make sure there’s some urgency here,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said.

Before falling to Oklahoma, it had been 23 matches since the Longhorns had last lost a conference match. Since that last loss, which came at Iowa State, Texas won a national title and posted an undefeated conference record last year.

But the Oklahoma game has brought the team back to Earth. After posting 12 service errors, which got the ball rolling with other mistakes, Prieto Cerame said it was a learning experience for the team.

“It just showed us that, if you don’t show up, anybody can show up and beat you,” Prieto Cerame said.

Iowa State has struggled this season, though. After being picked to finish third in the Big 12, the Cyclones have only managed to pull together a 3-5 conference record, which includes road losses to Baylor and TCU. Iowa State ranks first in the conference in assists and digs but is at or near the bottom in almost every other statistical category.

Despite the struggles, Iowa State has played well at home in the Hilton Coliseum, posting a perfect 3-0 record in conference play. Elliott said the biggest reason Iowa State plays so tough against the Longhorns is because of the confidence the Cyclones have at home.

“They feel comfortable there,” Elliott said. “They’ve got a big crowd there, and when we go in there they’re probably going to have eight to 10 thousand people that are going to be yelling at us and get us off our game.”

With Texas no longer undefeated and having to fend off Oklahoma and Kansas State, which are both 6-2 in the Big 12, for the remaining eight conference games, Prieto Cerame said it’s just about discipline now.

“We have to focus in practices being good from the beginning to the end,” Prieto Cerame said. “That should also be in the games and not making dumb errors.”

Senior outside hitter Haley Eckerman battles against Zhejiang, a Chinese club team. Eckerman and the Longhorns outlasted their opponent through five sets to win their second straight match.

Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

As the volleyball season enters its final month of regular season play, Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott has been searching for opportunities to replicate the feel of the NCAA tournament.

This season, Elliott has matched his team against ranked opponents No. 8 Florida and No. 14 Nebraska and has been in tough environments during Big 12 play.

“I love [being in tough environments],” Elliott said. “We need to be as uncomfortable as possible when we go to these environments because it’s going to help us come NCAA tournament time.”

Although the Longhorns have already been in challenging environments, Elliott wanted more opportunities to test the team in order to prepare them for
post-season play.

The No. 5 Longhorns (15-1, 7-1 Big 12) got that opportunity to simulate tournament play when they took on Chinese club team Zhejiang in two exhibition games, giving Texas an opportunity to rotate more players in and face a challenge.

In game one, despite missing five players because of suspensions, Texas had an easy time getting past Zhejiang, but the second game provided a much more difficult challenge.

“We told the team that we thought [Zhejiang] would play better [Tuesday], and we told them they would control the ball better,” Elliott said. “They are a good volleyball team. They were mixing up their tips and rolls, and they made us change a lot in our defense.”

Zhejiang pushed the Longhorns to five sets, but, in the end, Texas came out with a victory.

With the two games against Zhejiang in the books, Elliott said that the games provided an ample challenge.

“It is good to go for a routine and go through the lineup again and watch them,” Elliott said. “I can’t duplicate 18-16 game-five situations. [These games were] good for our ability to see where we are conditioning-wise and where we are doing a good job … That’s what makes it fun — that is what volleyball is all about. Let’s enjoy this and execute to win.”

These games also allowed the team to regroup after suffering an upset loss to Oklahoma. Against the Sooners, Texas committed 15 attack errors, 14 service errors and two blocking errors. Senior outside hitter Haley Eckerman said the second game against Zhejiang reminded the team that if they stick together, they can accomplish their goals this season.

“The game versus Oklahoma left a bad taste in our mouths,” Eckerman said. “We just needed this to kind of help us know that whatever may be out there, that we can compete. It was a big motivation for us to get back to playing Texas volleyball.”

Senior outside hitter Haley Eckerman battles against Zhejiang, a Chinese club team. Eckerman and the Longhorns outlasted their opponent through five sets to win their second straight match.

Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

The fifth set between Texas and Chinese club team Zhejiang was all about survival.

The two sides, almost deadlocked through the four prior sets, still couldn’t get themselves enough breathing room in the deciding set. Even with three match points, the Longhorns struggled to put away their guests.

But in the span of a couple of seconds, senior outside hitter Haley Eckerman won the match for Texas in a win that felt more like an NCAA Tournament match than an exhibition match.

“You don’t get many opportunities to recreate the urgency and the ability to execute and make some big plays,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said.

The first set saw a bit of a role reversal from Monday night’s match, with Zhejiang jumping out to a quick 10-4 lead and never looking back en route to a 25-20 set win. Texas only managed to hit .048 in the set with 11 attack errors.

“We thought that [Zhejiang] would play better, and we told the team that,” Elliott said. “They controlled the ball better. They’re a good volleyball team.”

Zhejiang took a 12-8 lead in the second set, but Texas then went on a 5-0 run anchored by Eckerman at the serving line. After Zhejiang tied the set at 14, the Longhorns closed out the set on an 11-4 run.

In the start of the third set, neither team was able to grab more than a 2-point lead, but Zhejiang went on a quick 5-1 run to take a 19-15 lead and eventually won the set 25-21.

Needing to force a fifth set, the Longhorns managed to take a 13-8 lead in the fourth and were eventually able to pull off a 25-19 set win.

The fifth set was another tight, back-and-forth affair. The Longhorns took a 13-10 lead but allowed Zhejiang to tie the set four more times before finally winning 18-16.

Eckerman, who was out of Monday night’s game because of a violation of team rules, said that the 3-0 loss to Oklahoma on Saturday helped the team win against Zhejiang.

“The loss to Oklahoma left a bad taste in our mouths,” Eckerman said. “We just need this to know that no matter what lineup is out there, we were going to compete.”

Texas resumes conference play with a trip to Ames, Iowa, to play Iowa State on Sunday. 

Junior middle blocker Molly McCage and Texas overcame five suspensions Monday and swept Chinese club team Zhejiang in its first of two exhibition games against the squad.

Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorn team that came out against the Chinese Club team Zhejiang on Monday night was much different than the team that lost 3-0 to Oklahoma on Saturday.

For one, Texas was without five of its usual starting lineup because of a violation of team rules. But even with key players, such as senior outside hitter Haley Eckerman and senior middle blocker Khat Bell, out, the Longhorns came out with a seemingly strong mentality, winning the first set easily and staying focused in the face of adversity.

In the end, the result was a 3-0 win for a Texas team looking to get back on the winning track.

“I thought we played more relaxed, and we were more steady,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We played as a unit.”

The Longhorns jumped out to a quick 10-4 lead in the first set over the defending champions from China’s National League, thanks in large part to two kills from junior middle blocker Molly McCage and Texas’ blockers. Texas then hung on with a .407 hitting percentage to win the set 25-15.

The second set, however, would prove to be a much tougher fight for Texas. After the Longhorns jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the set, Zhejiang fought back to tie the match at 14, thanks to a 5-1 run, and then took a 20-17 lead trying to even the match.

But the Longhorns fought back with a 6-3 run to tie and then took the set 26-24. Elliott said the most impressive thing at the end of the set was the team just sticking with it.

“I told them at the break that we were down 20-17, and side out, and get some points, and give ourselves a chance and not to get too anxious,” Elliott said.

In the third set, Texas again jumped out to an early 6-2 lead and, while Zhejiang managed to tie the set twice, closed out the match with relative ease with a 25-20 set win.

The Longhorns played the match without five of their usual starters because of a violation of team rules. Eckerman, Bell, freshman libero Cat McCoy, sophomore setter Chloe Collins and sophomore middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu each were held out of the match. Elliott said the players made a mistake but they are moving forward.

“It’s important for us to set the standard of what it is,” Elliott said. “This program has been built over a period of time, and that was my point — that we have to follow the rules.”

The suspensions proved beneficial for players who have struggled to see the court since conference play began. Junior middle blocker Sara Hattis scored six kills, while junior outside hitter Tiffany Baker added five kills and two aces, and junior libero Kat Brooks had 14 digs.

“It says a lot about the program that we have to be able to count on these players and the players that came in and got a chance,” Elliott said.

Texas and Zhejiang will square off again Tuesday at 7 p.m., and, while he said he’s not planning on making many adjustments, Elliott said they will have a better idea of what they did.

“We’ll have a longer look and understand their tendencies,” Elliott said. “We’ll give Mirta [Baselovic] a good shot tomorrow and some different players and take a look at that and go from there.”

Texas welcomed Chinese club team Zhejiang in a meet and greet with the Texas men’s basketball team Monday.

Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

At first glance, the members of Zhejiang volleyball team from China look like any other tourists in Austin. They took pictures of the field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, ate barbecue and left with bags of gifts.

While it might seem like a vacation, it’s a little bit more for Zhejiang.

The defending champion of China’s national volleyball league is in Texas to compete against what it considers to be the best collegiate team in the U.S.

“We have been in the States for almost a week and have been playing with a couple of teams already, but we know that this team is the strongest team we’re going to play,” Zhejiang head coach Wu Sheng said through a translator.

Zhejiang and Texas, perennial contender on the collegiate stage, square off twice this week, with the last match tonight at 7 p.m. Zhejiang has already faced off against Texas Tech, winning the match in Lubbock in five sets and swept TCU on Friday night.

This, however, will be by far its toughest test in the States. In addition to facing a team ranked in the top five, Zhejiang will have to deal with the Gregory Gym environment. Up until Saturday, the Longhorns had a 34-match win streak at home, and the advantage Texas enjoys has made it tough for it to schedule tough opponents at home, which head coach Jerritt Elliott said is a reason they scheduled a matchup with Zhejiang.

But Zhejiang is no stranger to difficult environments. Sheng said they’ve faced similar tests back in China.

“It really just depends on how our players adjust to the environment,” Sheng said.

The matches between Zhejiang and Texas go past simple volleyball matches. They play into men’s athletic director Steve Patterson’s goal to grow the Texas brand, especially in China. The Texas men’s basketball team, which had a meet and greet and lunch with the Chinese volleyball team Monday, will open the 2015-2016 season against the Washington Huskies in China.

Although former athletics director DeLoss Dodds scheduled the match against Zhejiang, Patterson said these matches will get the student athletes learning about China and its cultures.

“It’s a great educational opportunity for all of your student athletes, whether you’re entertaining a foreign team here or taking a team to play in China,” Patterson said. “That’s really the key we’re working towards.”

The Longhorns are no strangers to international play. Texas has travelled twice to Europe to play top club and national teams, and many of the players play professionally overseas after graduation.

“We’re really excited when the opportunity presents itself on our campus to give the international flavor to our fans,” women’s athletic director Chris
Plonsky said.

And with sports expanding internationally, Plonsky said she doesn’t think this is the end of it, either.

“You hear about the NFL maybe putting a team in London,” Plonsky said. “Sports is global, and sports is universal, and I think that applies to college sports as well.”

But aside from the branding and growth of sports on the international level, once they hit the court, Sheng said he has one goal for his players.

“Our goal is to have all of our players fully at their best,” Sheng said.