Texas suffered a shocking road loss to then-unranked Rice less than two weeks ago. But 10 days after that defeat, the Longhorns appear to have officially gotten back on the road to a Big 12 Championship.
Then, Texas was searching for a feeling of cohesion. Now, the Longhorns are more comfortable playing with each other than ever, and it showed in their dominant 3-0; 25-17, 25-18, 25-18 win over Texas Tech.
Senior outside hitter Micaya White has led the Longhorn attack all season, and Saturday was no different. White led all Longhorns with 147 kills heading into Saturday’s matchup. She tacked on 13 more in the Longhorns’ victory over the Red Raiders, hitting at a .520 clip.
“We’ve been working a lot on our communication between me and my hitters, and especially in the backcourt,” sophomore setter Jhenna Gabriel said. “There’s an extra level of comfort that we’ve been working to achieve. Today was one of the first days that we actually reached that.”
Gabriel had the Texas offense running smoothly Saturday. She finished with a game-high 34 assists against Tech, spreading the ball around and allowing each of Texas’ hitters to stay involved.
“Jhenna did a really nice job with our offense,” Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “Best night she’s had in terms of her distribution and getting her backcourt involved … Today was the first time we actually got involved a lot.”
The key to unleashing what can be a mighty Longhorn offense? Just having fun.
“Once our game is flowing and everybody’s having confidence in themselves, everybody knows who’s hot on the team … It’s fun volleyball at that point,” Gabriel said. “You’re not overthinking everything.”
Texas’ fun started early in the first set and never stopped. Texas jumped out to an early lead, then played around with a new 6-2 formation that saw Gabriel leave the floor. The Longhorns had a stretch run where they built a 10-point lead even without the star setter on the court. From there, Texas knew it was in control.
“We came out super aggressive,” senior libero Claire Hahn said. “We knew from the start that we’re winning this game. And so we just came out, served tough and got them offensively and defensively, and I think they crumbled pretty early.”
From there, it was smooth sailing. A steady Longhorn team went into cruise control, not once trailing in the sweep. Sophomore outside hitter Logan Eggleston came back from Wednesday’s injury with a 12-kill performance, and freshman opposite hitter Skylar Fields tacked on 11 more.
Hahn said the loss to Rice was immediately put in the past, and the Longhorns just had to rebuild trust. Through two conference matches in which Texas has lost just one set, it appears the trust has been rebuilt. The tension from the loss is gone. The Longhorns have relaxed, and that’s exactly what makes them dangerous.
“I felt like we’ve been a little bit tight,” Elliott said. “I feel like we haven’t been playing as smoothly as the preseason. And today, it looked like we had a lot more fun.”