Texas players huddle together during a scrimmage against Texas A&M in Austin on April 4, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Volleyball

Texas’ new-look volleyball team gives first glance of what this fall will look like — maybe

Posted April 5th, 2018

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Texas’ volleyball team gave fans a first look at a new look that may not be the same look this fall on Wednesday night.

Micaya White’s 10 kills and 16 digs led Texas to a 25-15, 18-25, 25-16, 25-23 win over Texas A&M in a spring scrimmage held in Gregory Gym. Texas, coming off a 27-3 season that came up short of the Final Four for the first time since 2011, hosts Texas State next Thursday before closing out its spring schedule at a tournament in Houston.

The Longhorns received mixed reviews in their win over the Aggies. Texas coach Jerritt Elliott expressed his displeasure with the team’s passing and there were 19 service errors. In the second set, Texas A&M erased a 17-10 deficit with a 12-0 run that featured five service aces.

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“Our main focus was just to come out and get off the rust and really just compete,” said sophomore Autumn Rounsaville, who split reps at libero with fellow sophomore Claire Hahn.

Texas middle blocker Brionne Butler (10) and Orie Agbaji attempt to block Texas A&M outside hitter Samantha Sanders (1) in Austin on April 4, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

White, though, looked the part of a two-time All-American. Returning setter Ashley Shook had 28 assists. Middle blockers Orie Agbaji and Brionne Butler also looked good in their springtime debuts.

Agbaji, a rising junior who has appeared in only 21 career matches, had six kills on 11 attempts while playing on the pin. A redshirt in 2017, Butler hit .571 with four blocks; her five kills were bookended by the scrimmage’s first play and the go-ahead point in the final set.

“You can’t even put a word on their potential,” said middle blocker Morgan Johnson, who will be one of UT’s two seniors this fall. “When you see them in the gym every day and the amount of un-human plays they make, sometimes your jaw just naturally drops at the things that they do.”

Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott looks at Texas outside hitter Yaasmeen Bedart-Ghani (27) during a scrimmage against Texas A&M in Austin on April 4, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The program is moving off after the departures of four key players, three of whom were there Wednesday night — Chiaka Ogbogu, Texas’ career leader in blocks; Cat McCoy, the school’s all-time leader in digs; and Ebony Nwanebu, a two-time All-American. The fourth, rising sophomore Lexi Sun, who was once the nation’s top recruit, has transferred to Nebraska. The fourth senior from last season’s roster, Mirta Baselovic, is now a graduate assistant for the Longhorns.

Texas had braced for the losses of those four seniors, but Sun’s departure created unexpected turnover. And defensive specialist Olivia Zelon also left following her redshirt season. Zelon outlined her reasoning for quitting in a bridge-burning blog that prompted online defenses of UT’s program from former Longhorns.

Despite the headlines, Elliott insisted that the team’s culture was the best it’s been in years. The long-time coach partially attributed that statement to anger over last year’s loss in a regional final and having rising senior Yaazie Bedart-Ghani as the team’s authoritative voice.

Johnson later used an analogy to describe the locker room’s mindset in the off-season.

“You think about a hurricane, there’s a whole bunch of stuff swirling around,” Johnson said. “There’s a whole storm but there’s that one dot in the middle, the eye of the storm where everything’s just calm and peaceful. I feel like that’s where we were this spring. We were just big chilling.”

Texas has only 10 players on its roster, so Elliott has concentrated on ball control and service this spring. Johnson said some players have been asked at times to play out of position, “which makes us more scrappy.” Riley Fisbeck, for example, was used as a three-rotation defensive specialist on Wednesday but the La Grange native will return to her role as a backup setter this fall.

Help is on the way, too. Texas has signed middle blocker Asjia O’Neal and libero Sydney Petersen. Jhenna Gabriel, a setter from Hawaii, has committed but has not yet signed.

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