Young Longhorns face tall task at Big 12 championships

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Photo Credit: Angel Ulloa | Daily Texan Staff

It has been quite a hectic season for a young Longhorn squad. Texas’ play in the regular season has seen its fair share of highs and lows, ending at a season record of 12–7. But this weekend, the team from Austin looks to find consistency in the Big 12 Championships.

No. 24 Texas (12–7, 6–3 Big 12) has shown plenty of growth this season since its first match against Columbia, taking down many tough teams on the way to earning a No. 4 seed in the Big 12 tournament. The Longhorns managed this feat with only one senior on the squad, compared to seven underclassmen. 

Texas comes into the tournament after finishing off the regular season with a pair of emphatic wins against Kansas and Kansas State, as well as an emotional senior night honoring the career of lone senior Neda Koprcina. 

Although the Longhorns have gathered more and more experience with every tournament they’ve played throughout the season, a tall task still lies ahead of them — delivering a strong performance at the Big 12 Championships.

Head coach Howard Joffe realizes the key to being successful at this meaningful tournament is conquering the fatigue that comes with the lengthy duration of each match.

“The obvious thing like any tournament is if you’re fortunate enough to win matches, you’ll play even better teams as you go forward,” Joffe said. “If you want to win a conference tournament or the NCAA tournament, you’ll need to be able to win three or four matches in consecutive days, which is a huge challenge given that these are three- or four-hour duals.”

Joffe also stressed the need to see large improvements in singles and doubles play as the Longhorns prepare for the conference tournament.

“The singles have been good, but I think we can improve on it,” Joffe said. “The doubles will need a major overhaul if we’re going to do something in the postseason.”

Texas was knocked out of the first round of last year’s tournament by Texas Tech after a disappointing 4-3 loss in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

But the Longhorns look to turn the page as they head to this year’s Big 12 Championships, which will be hosted by Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma. Texas will enter the quarterfinals on Friday, facing fifth-seeded No. 25 TCU (13–8, 5–4 Big 12) at 1 p.m. 

Although the current roster is filled with youth, the Longhorns will remember their nine previous Big 12 Championship wins as they step onto the court this weekend. In the tournament’s 20-year history, the Longhorns have reached the finals a conference-leading 16 times.

Earlier this season, the Horned Frogs had no answer for the overpowering Texas team, which won a 4-0 shutout on March 26. Texas dominated in the shutout — each win came in straight sets.

If Texas can replicate its success from its most recent match against TCU and find strength in its doubles play, the bout should make for a quick walk to the second round, where Texas will face either Texas Tech or Kansas State or Iowa State.