Gregory Gymnasium felt like the venue for a championship match on Wednesday as the No. 4 Longhorns welcomed No. 1 Baylor to Austin with the winner set to emerge at the top of the conference standings.
Despite being the lower ranked team, the Longhorns never felt like the underdog heading into the game.
“That thought never crossed our mind,” sophomore setter Jhenna Gabriel said. “We have fans who show up for every single game so we wanted to be able do this for them.”
Baylor jumped out to an early lead behind team leader junior outside hitter Yossiana Pressley. Freshman middle blocker Asjia O’Neal and freshman opposite hitter Skylar Fields helped the Longhorns fight back, combining for a double block against Pressley to get back to within two points in the first set.
The lead would seesaw afterward. The turning point occurred when the game tied at 16. Baylor launched an attack that looked like it would lead to another point. However, senior libero Claire Hahn had other plans, diving to prevent the ball from hitting the floor.
“It (was) all of those little plays adding up getting the other team frustrated,” Gabriel said. “It was just great to see everything we’ve been working on pay off in a game situation.”
Baylor was caught off guard as they failed to get back into position, hitting the ball into the net. Hahn’s teammates quickly picked her up and celebrated as the fans cheered. The big save was the key as Texas surged going on an 8-3 run.
Texas gained the upper hand at home against the best team in the country. Baylor was shell-shocked, having very little experience trailing in matches, holding a 48-2 record in their previous 50 sets.
Initially, it looked like Baylor was going to respond with a vengeance. Albeit early, the Bears earned a 4-2 lead in the second set with a dominant attack. A small mistake by Baylor gave the momentum back to Texas.
The Bears stumbled into another error after a sideways attack by Pressley missed its mark. Baylor started to go off the rails even more when senior outside hitter Micaya White teamed up with sophomore middle blocker Brionne Butler for another double block. Sophomore outside hitter Logan Eggleston fired up the crowd even more when she reeled off consecutive service aces.
“Logan’s serving game was definitely working,” White said. “After the first (set), I said Pressley is a great player but we just need to focus on our side I think that helped us.”
The remainder of the set wasn’t close. Texas went on an 18-7 run to close out the set, with only one more set to go before sweeping the No. 1 team in the country and taking first place in the Big 12 standings.
Both the players and fans started jumping in the stands to the beat of “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes. They began to anticipate the biggest home victory of the 2019 season.
Texas continued to roll in the third set when Eggleston brought the crowd to their feet with a service ace. The Longhorns’ confidence grew even more.
“When it’s a big game, the crowd get more excited,” Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “I think there are a lot of points when we should be standing if they get to that point it gets the juices flowing.”
The deficit was too much for the Bears to overcome, as Texas would win the set with a combined block by Butler and Fields. The Baylor comeback attempt sank in a sea of Texas students chanting “overrated” at the top of their lungs.
The win will not only move the Longhorns up in the national rankings but they will also have control of their destiny in their quest for a third consecutive Big 12 title. A rematch in Waco is down the road, but on Wednesday, the night belonged to Texas.