Young players lift Longhorns to win in first ranked contest of season

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Photo Credit: Joshua Guenther | Daily Texan Staff

What Texas volleyball lacks in experience, they makes up for with raw talent.

The extent of this talent was on display Sunday as the No. 4 Longhorns took down No. 14 USC at Gregory Gym, winning 23–25, 25–18, 25–17, 25–21.

The first set looked like Texas still hadn’t shaken off those early-season nerves, and the Trojans took advantage of some early mistakes to take the first set. The Longhorns had little answer for USC’s blocking, hitting just .194 in that set.

After momentum shifted in the second set, the Trojans were searching for answers. The second set began with a kill by freshman middle blocker Skylar Fields. Sophomore outside hitter Logan Eggleston then got rolling with her serve, recording three aces as Texas charged out to an 8-0 lead.

“In between the first and second set, we sat down and were like, ‘Hey, we’re playing good volleyball, but we’re not fully committing ourselves to every single play,’” Eggleston said. “We came out in the second and we just really did that, and it obviously showed.”

Freshman middle blocker Molly Phillips came out with two early blocks, and Fields got rolling offensively alongside Eggleston. The Longhorns built an eight point lead they would never look back from, and would go on to take the next three sets.

“Early in (set) one, we had about eight or nine opportunities and we didn’t convert on one of them,” Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We challenged (the team) to go about their business, keep learning about what they do, play hard and play our level.”

While the first five sets of this Texas season have looked like a young team trying to learn to play with one another, the last three looked like a different team. The Longhorns were aggressive in their attack and made USC pay for any mistakes it made. 

“We talked about some things after our first match, about the way we process some things and the way we go about it,” Elliott said. “Tonight was a much better job. We played as a team, we fought defensively, and put a lot of pressure on them as the night went on.”

The growth of this Texas team is already evident. Fields finished with a team-high .458 hitting percentage, while Eggleston led the way with five service aces and 16 kills.

“The way that (Eggleston and Fields) and the rest of that freshman and sophomore class are performing, I’m really pleased with it, and (we have) some good things to grow from,” Elliott said.

Fields and Phillips, each playing in just their second collegiate game, were forced to learn on the fly what it was like playing in front of a sold out Gregory Gym. 

“I’ve been really waiting to play in Greg because I know the crowd is there for us,” Fields said. “Having the crowd cheer you on and playing really well with your teammates is just amazing.”

Even after a tough match against USC, the road gets increasingly difficult for Texas. No. 3 Minnesota comes to Austin on Wednesday, with a match against No. 1 Stanford the following weekend in Palo Alto.

“It makes us really have to play hard, we learn a lot about ourselves,” Eggleston said. “It just sets up the season, so I’m super excited to keep going this (non-conference season).”