07 Sep

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Sixth-ranked Texas rallies to roll past No. 16 Kentucky in four sets

The Longhorns locked in after falling behind early, defeating visiting No. 16 Kentucky in 4 sets Friday. (Photo courtesy texassports.com)

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas volleyball team  thrives on big-game pressure.

Just ask Oregon, Florida and now Kentucky. Those are the three ranked teams the Texas Volleyball team has beaten in the first two weeks of the season. Even Wisconsin, the then-No. 8-ranked squad that somehow found a way beat Texas, would vouch for UT's tenacity.

The sixth-ranked Longhorns showed off that attribute in a big way during in a 25-27, 25-21, 25-18, 25-16 win Friday evening, ultimately overmatching N0. 16 Kentucky before a raucous crowd of 3,702 at Gregory Gym.

“I’ve been doing this for 18 years at Texas and had a lot of teams," Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said, “but this one has been so steady in the process — the best I’ve ever had."

Junior outside hitter Micaya White led the Longhorns with 18 kills while forging an attack percentage of .421, while freshman outside hitter Logan Eggleston had 15 kills and Sydney Peterson pitched in 15 digs. Morgan Johnson recorded 12 kills and Katarina Luketic tallied 10 as well.

Seamlessly setting up the Texas attack, sophomore setter Ashley Shook distributed 51 assists in the win.

“We played very consistent — nothing really rattled us,” said White, who added 11 digs. “We were very composed and calm. As chaotic as it was, we were actually very steady the whole match. Sometimes, I just see where the defense is playing against me and I hit it where they aren’t.”

Leah Edmond led Kentucky (3-4) with 15 kills while Amy Stumler added 13 but hut just .138.

Texas outhit Kentucky, .400-.217, in the match, had 25 blocks to 14 for the Wildcats and a 54-49 edge in digs.

Texas (5-1) played for the fourth time in six matches without outside hitter Yaazie Bedart-Ghani, who been limited because of a “nagging” back injury. Elliott said he made the decision Friday to rest Bedart-Ghani.

The Longhorns’ quality depth just wore down Kentucky in the final two sets, serving plenty of notice that good teams might take one set, or even two, from Texas, but that third is going to really be difficulty to earn.

"It’s just been a joy because we have a good mix of young players and others that are great leaders," Elliott said. “Our offense was really good and our serve-receive made a big difference tonight.”

Kentucky got all the breaks in Game 1, twice deflecting serves off the net for points and even earning a point on a dig that flew back over the net and hit the sideline on UT's end of the court.

Texas had a 19-13 lead in the first set before the Wildcats roared back to score six of the ensuing seven points. That pulled them within 20-19, then Kentucky tied the set at 21 on a kill by Edmond. Then, Edmond one-upped herself, reeling off back-to-back kills to finish off the set, with the final smash bouncing off an attempted block from Johnson and Luketic, landing out of bounds and granting Kentucky a 27-25 win.

“I never felt like we lost our composure,” Elliott said. “We just got better and better. Kentucky was good — for the first two games they were really good. Then we finally caught up with them from a defensive standpoint and we started slowing them down.”

The second set was tied at 14 before Texas made another run, winning six of the next seven points to grab a 20-15 lead. Kentucky responded in much the same fashion it had in the first set, cutting the Longhorns’ lead to 22-20 as Edmond forged three kills and a block in surge. But the Wildcats could never pull even again, as kills by Johnson and Eggleston allowed Texas to take the set 25-21.

The Longhorns made quick work of things in the third set, jumping to a 7-3 lead and then to 19-13 on a pair of kills by Eggleston. Another kill by Eggleston pushed the Texas advantage to 21-14 and a block and two kills by White ended the set at 25-18.

The trend that was started in the third set carried over into the fourth, as the rallies got shorted and Texas dominated. From a 6-6 tie the Longhorns racked up 10 of the next 12 points on the way to a 25-16 win that featured an .500-.080 edge in hitting.

Texas returns to action on Tuesday when it travels to fourth-ranked Stanford in the first match of a home-and-home; the Cardinal plays Friday in Austin in an 8 p.m. match that can be seen on the Longhorn network.

Steve Habel is a senior contributing writer for Horns Illustrated. He has covered Texas sports since 1989 and was this magazine’s senior editor for 24 years. You can follow him on twitter @stevehabel .