Inexperience proved to be the Longhorns’ Achilles’ heel when they opened the season on Friday night. They lost on the road to No. 12 Florida, 3-1.
Despite boasting an array of young talent, No. 1 Texas found itself in an uphill battle stemming from a lack of chemistry between those newcomers and the team’s veteran core.
Sets weren’t where they needed to be, communication wasn’t flowing during plays, and errors filled the stat sheet. The Gators capitalized on it all, feeding off a frenzied home crowd of more than 7,500 fans and claiming the first two sets, 25-16 and 25-23.
“(Florida) put a lot of pressure on us with a great crowd and a great environment,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said in a press conference. “We didn’t execute on our side; we were high error, and you just can’t give a team like that that many free balls.”
Texas fought back to win the third set 25-18, but the two-set deficit was too much to overcome. The Gators completed the upset with a 25-21 win in the fourth frame. For the Longhorns, the loss served as a much-needed learning experience.
“We went into this match kind of blind,” senior outside hitter Ebony Nwanebu said in a press conference. “But now we know to work on our passing, shots and blocking. So, I see this as more of a learning curve than a super terrible loss.”
It didn’t take long for Texas to regain its footing however, as the Longhorns rebounded on Saturday with a 3-1 win over No. 18 Oregon in the Longhorns’ second match of the VERT Challenge.
After dropping a tight first set, Texas began to create some separation from the Ducks. The Longhorns tallied 11 kills in the second set while hitting .185 as they cruised to a 25-17 victory.
“That second set really showed us what we can look like once we get our chemistry going,” junior middle blocker Morgan Johnson said. “When we all do our jobs, and do the little things right, we feel like we can beat anybody.”
Texas never looked back after the second-set victory, winning the third and fourth sets 25-22 and 25-23, respectively.
The Longhorns’ freshmen made their presence known throughout the match. Outside hitter Lexi Sun led the Longhorns with 14 kills, and setter Ashley Shook shared the wealth with 38 assists.
Next up for the Longhorns is a trip to San Diego, where they will battle Villanova on Sept. 1 in the opening match of the USD Tournament.
“We just need to keep that same focus,” Johnson said. “This weekend showed us exactly what we need to get from everybody in order to win, so now we have to keep that going into next weekend.”