Early season matches will be a huge part of the learning process for the Texas volleyball team. The third-ranked Longhorns’ 24-13, 25-7, 26-24 victory over California Irvine on Saturday at Gregory Gym showed how far they are from the finished product they expect to be.
But even as they worked through some growing pains, the Longhorns proved they can be very good.
Led by Amy Neal’s 10 kills and 10 digs and Chiaka Ogbogu’s nine kills, Texas (2-0) hit .326 as a team despite a ragged third set in which it had to win the final three points to avoid a fourth set. UC Irvine was picked in preseason polls to finish sixth in the Big West this year, and the Anteaters were in over their heads from the start.
“We have a lot of players in different positions and changed roles, and it’s going to take some time for us to gel,” Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said.
Molly McCage added five kills for the Longhorns.
The Anteaters (1-1) were led by Harlee Kekauoha’s seven kills. Sydney Wright added six kills, and Victoria Dennis had five.
The Longhorns romped to an easy win in the first set, using an early kill by Ogbogu and four consecutive serving points from Neal — including three aces — to build a 6-2 lead.
Texas pushed its advantage to 19-9 before the Anteaters reeled off four straight points. The Longhorns regained their stride by racking up the set’s final six points, with the last three coming on an ace by Chloe Collins and two kills by McCage.
Texas picked up right where it left off in set two, scoring the first six points. Using a combination of their veterans and newcomers, the Longhorns poured it on.
Texas got back-to-back combo blocks from Nicole Dalton and Ogbogu, then another from Dalton and freshman Yasmeen Bedart-Ghani and finally one from Dalton and sophomore Mirta Baselovic on the way its most dominating set of the early season.
Texas was not as sharp in the third set, with numerous errors and a lack of focus allowing UC Irvine to build five-point leads three times, the final one at 16-11. The Longhorns fought back to knot the set at 19-19 but trailed 24-23 after a kill by Wright.
Texas responded with a kill from freshman Morgan Johnson, a combo block by Johnson and McCage, and an ace from Collins to end the match.
“The problems we had in the third set came from poor passing, but we’ve been in those tough situations before and showed we can fight through them,” Elliott said.
The Longhorns played LSU, which lost to Rice earlier in the day, in a late match Saturday that ended after print deadline.
Steve Habel, American-Statesman Correspondent