Texas volleyball is ranked No. 3 in the AVCA coaches poll for the third consecutive week to start the season, the poll revealed on Monday. For a team with little experience, the consistency shown from the ranking week in and week out shows their progression in the early season.
Yet as the nonconference season has progressed, the Longhorns have seen several young players show major improvements in their roles.
Sophomore setter Jhenna Gabriel has cemented her status as a focal point of the Texas rotation, posting 259 of the team’s 317 assists so far this season. Gabriel played meaningful time as a freshman, including career-high 53 assists against Michigan in the Sweet 16, but head coach Jerritt Elliott said in his weekly press conference Monday that Gabriel has improved in more than just her skill.
“Jhenna’s grown up a lot,” Elliott said. “There’s still a process that we’re working with her on, to be accountable to work for every single point in every practice. She’s put some good weeks together … We know that we give up points with her blocking, but she can make it up in other areas. She’s got that capability, and I’ve seen good stretches of that from her.”
On the other end of Gabriel’s sets stands sophomore outside hitter Logan Eggleston.
Following an outstanding freshman season, capped off by winning Big 12 Freshman of the Year, she has returned in 2019 looking sharper than ever before. She has increased her hitting percentage from .278 to .364 in the early goings of the season and looks to continue to expand her game offensively.
“For her, it was getting her comfortable early in the season,” Elliott said. “We had to pull her a little bit early in some of those matches. A lot of that was nerves … Her numbers continue to improve from match to match, so she’s becoming a complete six-rotation player.”
Eggleston’s steady progression has transformed a potent Texas offense into a lethal one. With senior outside hitter Micaya White drawing attention on the other side, Eggleston is able to expand her repertoire of shots.
“(Eggleston’s) attack range has really grown,” Elliott said. “Her shots are really opening up a lot of opportunities for her.”
Yet the youth of Eggleston and the rest of this squad poses challenges beyond just on-court experience. The grind of a full slate of matches played multiple times a week takes a toll on a young team.
Elliott said his biggest concern is where Texas is emotionally.
“When you’re Texas, everyone comes after you every single night,” Elliott said. “My job is, ‘Can we prepare the same way emotionally, mentally, physically?’”