Goals to go: Texas' 2019 NCAA loss fuels Eggleston, Longhorns
The last time the Longhorns were in the NCAA volleyball tournament, it was December 2019 and they fell to lower-seeded Louisville in front of a home crowd at Gregory Gymnasium.
That’s a memory that team captain Logan Eggleston will carry as she and the No. 4-seeded Longhorns travel to Omaha, Neb. for this year's NCAA Tournament, which will run from April 14-24. Texas (23-1) swept through the Big 12 this year, and if not for a March 23 loss to Rice would be a perfect 24-0.
Eggleston said the No. 4 overall seed is somewhat of a diss, but she understands the numbers are just that; the Longhorns entered the 2019 tournament as the No. 2 seed, yet exited in the Sweet 16.
“We didn’t forget,” Eggleston said. “It’s been in the back of our mind ever since it happened and it’s been pushing us the past year-and-a-half. ... We’re going to continue to let that drive us forward to winning those big games.”
Regardless of where the Longhorns feel they should be positioned, the top-16 ranking gives Texas a first-round bye. UT will play the winner of the Samford-Wright State match on April 15 when the second round begins.
The 48-team tournament will have the same bubble format that the NCAA adopted for the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott said he’s still getting information about how things will actually look.
“I think all the protocols that we’ve been through at Texas is going to help us out,” Elliott said.
The slate of spring matches that Texas played, which included nonconference opponents, could also be an advantage for the near-perfect Longhorns. With Wisconsin and Minnesota claiming the No. 1 and No. 3 seeds, respectively, the selection committee was high on Big Ten teams, Elliott said.
But he added that many of the teams could be wild cards, as they either haven’t played as many matches or their competition was restricted to their respective conference.
“It’s more about what we can control on our side of the net and get our team ready and be ready to battle and compete at a high level from the very start,” Elliott said.
So the loss to Rice will go in the rearview, although the coach said it hurt pretty bad. Eggleston said it was a reset opportunity for a team that hadn’t lost a game in more than a year. After the loss, the Longhorns went back into the gym and studied film.
Life in the bubble will be another reset: five matches in nine days on top of other life responsibilities. Balancing online classes, practices and matches has been difficult over the past year, Eggleston said.
“It’s gonna definitely be weird going into the bubble and again just having volleyball and school, so we’re gonna just have to find ways to have fun, play board games, listen to music, watch shows and still find ways to connect with each other while we’re still in the bubble,” Eggleston said.
Texas will also have to find ways to take one match at a time. Watching the numerous upsets which characterized the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments taught Eggleston and her teammates that things don’t always go as expected.
“On any given day, anyone can win, so we really need to go into every single game with the kind of mentality that this team could beat us,” she said.