After blowing a 2-1 lead against Iowa State in Ames, Iowa on Saturday, a return to home-court was exactly what the Longhorns needed to regroup as the season draws to a finish.
No. 7 Texas (20-4, 12-2) dominated Wednesday night’s match with a 3-0 sweep over visiting Texas Tech. The Longhorns thrived in their natural habitat for a fourth-straight home sweep, decimating the Red Raiders, who suffered their ninth sweep since the start of Big-12 play.
“I’m pretty fired up,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We responded very well and played one of our most emotional matches and one of our most consistent matches. We had the disappointing loss at Iowa State, but it’s nice to see that we let that go.”
The score remained level for much of the first set. Neither team earned a lead larger than three points in a set that featured 16 ties and four lead changes.
But tied at 22-22, Texas pulled ahead late with strong play at the net. A service ace by senior setter Chloe Collins was crucial. She took advantage of Texas Tech’s inability to respond to difficult serves throughout the night. The set ended on a powerful kill by senior outside hitter Paulina Prieto Cerame on the ensuing play.
“We challenged the team to do some things at an emotional standpoint and I thought they responded to it,” Elliott said. “Texas Tech played phenomenal ball but we just stayed with it.”
The Longhorn offense came out firing on all cylinders in the second set. Texas comfortably separated itself from the visitors in the wire-to-wire victory. The team shared the wealth at the net, with four players attaining three or more kills.
Texas extended its lead from 17-13 to a 25-14 victory on a 7-0 run highlighted by more strong serves from Collins. The Longhorns relied on the play of junior outside hitter Ebony Nwanebu, who recorded a team-high seven kills in the set and 15 in the match.
“Jerritt [Elliott] talked to me before the game about being confident and being the best player I can be,” Nwanebu said. “In the middle of the second game I was like, ‘why not, I’m just going to go for it and try to be fearless.’”
Texas completed the sweep in the third frame. The Longhorns pulverized Texas Tech 25-15 in a set defined by a stingy defense and a series of long runs. And as is its way, the burnt orange once again dominated in blocks, earning nine compared to Texas Tech’s two. Sophomore middle blocker Morgan Johnson led the charge with five in the victory.
“I loved seeing Morgan get three blocks in a row,” junior libero Cat McCoy said. “Seeing other people do their jobs makes you want to do your job.”
Prieto Cerame delivered a strong performance in the sweep as well, recording 14 kills and four blocks. She once again proved to be the anchor of the Longhorn attack, a steady force no matter the situation. The senior from San Juan, Puerto Rico is second on the team this year in both kills and points. Throughout the season she has proved more than capable of coming through whenever the Longhorns need to win a crucial point.
Despite its high-ranking in the polls, Texas does not control its destiny in hopes of winning a sixth-consecutive Big-12 title. No. 4 Kansas (24-2, 13-1) recently defeated Texas on Oct. 29 and has two conference games remaining before postseason tournaments commence. If the Jayhawks win out, Texas will cede the conference championship for the first time since 2010.
Texas finishes the 2016 season in front of its fans with two home contests, the next against Kansas State on Saturday at 7 p.m.