It was undoubtedly a successful Saturday for head coach Jerritt Elliott. The leader of No. 5 Texas stepped to the podium after his team’s 3-1 victory over Kansas State on Saturday having won another match and a share of his fifth-straight Big 12 title. And to top it off, Saturday’s victory came on senior day, when the Texas faithful honored seniors Kat Brooks, Amy Neal and Molly McCage.
“I still get emotional on these nights,” Elliott said. “But I think I’ve done a better job as I’ve aged trying to relish the moment and enjoy it. I wanted them to win so they could have that experience and have a positive senior night.”
Texas dropped the match’s first set in a back-and-forth affair that kept fans and Elliott on the edge of their seats. As the set grew later, the tension in the air was palpable. Neither team held a lead of more than one point following a 14-12 Texas lead early in the first set. But ultimately the underdog Kansas State squad claimed the first set, as an attack error by Neal gave the Wildcats a 33-31 set one victory.
The opening frame was a far departure for a Texas team accustomed to running through Big 12 opponents with ease. The Wildcats’ defense suffocated the Longhorns attack, with their back line stifling many Texas kill attempts.
“They were just really steady,” McCage said. “I felt like our emotions were up and down, and they were even keeled the whole time. Their defense was absolutely relentless.”
The Longhorns headed to their bench following the first set deflated. In a day that was primed to be a celebration for the seniors, Texas had to adjust.
“I’m as confident with this group as I’ve been with any group that we’ve had,” Elliott said. “They have a really unique chemistry, they fight well together and they respond well in those situations.”
It was a different Texas team that took the court for the match’s final three sets, a team that reflected their No. 5 ranking. The vaunted Longhorns attack took control of the match, with Texas tallying 73 kills along with a .386 kill percentage.
Kansas State provided some pushback to the Texas attack as the match continued, but none of the Longhorns’ victories in the final three sets were ever in doubt. Texas claimed set two 25-12, set three 25-19 and set four 25-12 en route to its 14th conference win of the year.
As a group, Elliott and the Texas seniors have amassed four Big 12 titles, three final fours and 31 victories at Gregory Gym. And while their work together is far from finished, Saturday night was a time for reflection.
“They have the best winning percentage of any senior class that’s come through here,” Elliott said. “But more importantly, the way they’ve handled themselves and the way they’ve made this program better has been really special.”