No. 4 Horns Rested, Ready for No. 21 Baylor

Texas TEAM SHOP
The No. 4 Longhorns host No. 21 Baylor looking to go 2-0 in Big 12 Conference play (photo courtesy of texassports.com).

Recuperated and Ready, No. 4 Horns host No. 21 Baylor tonight

By Habeab Kurdi

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Sensing something just a bit askew, Texas Volleyball head coach Jerritt Elliott gave his squad a little down time recently.

Springing back into action tonight in a Top-25 battle with No. 21 Baylor, the No. 4 Longhorns feel refreshed with a renowned sense of what type of team they are, and are ready to be.

Texas is coming off a Big 12 Conference-opening win over Kansas State in five sets, and it was a win that showed the Longhorns they need a bit more sharpness the rest of the way.

“We hit .581 in Game 1 against Kansas State — that should win you 99 out of a 100 games,” Elliott said of the Game 1 loss, “but we netted three times, missed four serves, had a couple ball-control things that were very simple plays…we need to learn how to play more clean for a longer period of time.”

Serving Needs Service

Brionne Butler, who is a force on the front line, will step in to serve more frequently going forward in an effort to shore up the service game, starting tonight hosting Baylor. [place_ad_1]

Coming off of a career-high 14 kills as well as a career-high four digs in the win over K-State, the freshman Butler is 12th in the NCAA and second in the Big 12 in hitting percentage at .408.

“(Serving is) really something that I need to start embracing, we have had a little bit of problems with serving but i think its just a mindset,” Butler said. “I don’t know how to explain it…a lack of focus. We need to get out of our heads and just do it.”

Equating it to honing free-throw shooting in basketball, Elliott said it’s sometimes just a little tweak here or there with consistent repetitions that can create a last fix.

“Serving is a little like free throws, it’s not something you can go back and sprinkle some magic dust on and it’s all fixed,” he said. “We’ve been spending a lot of time on it in practice …

“We were pretty deflated after the second Stanford match, but we also made a lot of errors on our side that we can control. We missed eight out of nine serves, which I’ve never seen in my life as a head coach.”

Early Season Off Day

Following the win over the Wildcats back on Sept. 19, Texas had its first bye of the season with no matches over the weekend. The week in between featured Texas (6-3, 1-0) taking a quick break before they were back at it trying to sharpen up their service game, as well as their defensive discipline.

The Longhorns had a tough early schedule, including two losses to No. 2 Stanford that let Texas know how close they were to the tip-top of the volleyball world.

“We got an opportunity to work on some things that we’ve seen that we needed to continue to grow,” Elliott said. “And we were able to get the girls a couple days off, with a grueling preseason that’s nice for them.”

The off time let the Longhorns soak in what they’d learned so far, while also giving them a chance to let their minds slow down for a beat and get back to a confident comfort level. The upcoming match against the Bears is the seventh ranked opponent in 10 matches for UT this season.

“One of the two reasons we schedule that…is the RPI,” Elliott said. “The other is teaching them to put their big girl pants on and see what its like to get stressed out. And also for the coaching staff (to see) statistically what are we looking at, how do we get exposed, how do we come back from that?” [place_ad_1]

This is nothing new for Elliott or Texas, which always strives to have one of the toughest schedules in the nation.

“I’ve always been a proponent of try to schedule tough in the preseason because I got exposed in a lot of different areas from our team. It’s good because now we’re hammering it home and we can make some strides.”

No. 21 Bears Another Top Test

Already having topped then-No. 2 Wisconsin, which Texas lost to back on Sept. 1, Baylor comes in with a chance to beat the Longhorns for the first time since Oct. 21, 2001. The Horns hold a 81-2 advantage in the all-time series, and absolutely have to be aggressive to fend off any let downs.

The Bears (9-4) feature a fast offense and springy defense, standing at 1-1 in the Big 12 after a win over Iowa State last Saturday and a loss to Texas Tech to open conference play.

Freshman libero Sydney Petersen stepped into the lineup for Texas and has provided a boost along with the Longhorns semi-youth movement, where Elliott plays up to four freshmen at a time. The freshman from Iowa matched her career-high mark with 19 digs in the win over the Wildcats, while she also set a new career-high with five assists.

“They have a really fast offense, which we’ve been working on in practice a lot,” Petersen said. “We have a lot of things to work on from the preseason — we need to become a physical team, not only a physical team but a really good defensive team all around it.”

Journey of Getting Better

Part of the process in the early going is getting the whole team coming together at the same time. Elliott said that even with playing time sometimes coming then going for players used to being out there often, the assimilation process accelerated during the rugged pre-conference schedule thanks to the Longhorns’ leadership.

“We’ve got really good leadership,” Elliott commented. “Each year the team changes dramatically because of the leadership. This group just plays, and they’re enjoying playing.”

During the early season, Texas was short senior leader Yaazie Bedart-Ghani because of injury, and freshman Katarina Luketic stepped in to more court time. Coming to the season late from Croatia, Luketic is balancing the adjustments to the Forty Acres along with her new team in the tone set by Bedart-Ghani, according to Elliott.

“When Yaazie was injured she was very supportive of Katarina, and so she saw that & now Katarina gets to see that and can’t behave in a different way, because of the way that Yaazie was.”
Luketic, to her credit, is embracing her role and the culture around the University of Texas community.

“It has been tough but I feel like it’s getting better and better every day, I’m starting to feel like this is my normal routine now,” she said. “I love how this is a community, and everybody’s really friendly with each other. I don’t know, I just feel happy. The culture, I learned a lot but I feel like the most important is to be positive, to stay positive — not only for yourself but also for other people.”

Texas hosts Baylor at 7pm tonight at Gregory Gym.

“We have a really good character, still building on it a bit but that's part of the journey of getting better,” Butler concluded.

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