The Texas’ Longhorns suffered what they were quick to point out was a September setback on Friday.
Minnesota freshman Stephanie Samedy contributed 22 kills, and Texas was unable to gain much offensive traction in a 25-21, 25-27, 26-24, 25-19 loss. The meeting between Minnesota (8-0) and Texas (6-2) featured the first and fifth-ranked teams in the AVCA’s weekly poll.
“We have a long way to go until December,” UT libero Cat McCoy said. “Yeah, it sucks to lose, especially in front of a great crowd like that, but the end of the day, we’re just going to get back to work and keep striving towards our goal.”
An announced crowd of 4,353 — the 10th-largest in school history — packed into Gregory Gym for the match. A lengthy pregame ceremony featured a Minnesota dance circle and hype man Chris McGee coming up with catchphrases for UT starters. One the fun ended, though, the games began.
The match opened as a heavyweight bout that had 13 ties by the time Minnesota took a 15-14 lead on a block by Regan Pittman. Texas forced the set’s final tie at 19-19, but Minnesota pulled away with a 5-0 run.
UT fell behind quickly in the second set. The Longhorns, however, kept Minnesota in their sights and forced a handful of late ties. Kills from Lexi Sun helped Texas fight off two set points, and senior Chiaka Ogbogu teamed with Ashley Shook and Micaya White on two set-deciding blocks.
Sun once again killed off a set point in the third game, but Minnesota still earned a two-point decision. UT got a fourth-set boost of the bench from junior Natalie Gilbert, who served two straight aces after making her season debut Thursday, but Minnesota used a 6-0 run to build a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
After the match, UT coach Jerritt Elliott lamented some of Texas’ offensive swings and serving. Texas hit only .202, which Elliott said was a credit to Minnesota’s discipline and scouting.
Sun recorded a Texas-high 19 kills, but she needed 50 swings. White and Ogbogu, who are both All-Americans, were held to .204 and -.143 hitting percentages. Two-time All-American Ebony Nwanebu was pulled after missing all 10 of her first-set attacks.
“I think we got beat up in a lot of different areas,” Elliott said. “We were good for stretches and then poor for stretches, and you can’t do that against the No.1 team in the country. Offensively, we just never could really get going, and that’s the challenge.”
White added 16 kills for UT, and junior Morgan Johnson turned her 17 attempts into 11 kills. Shook (43 assists, 17 digs) and Sun (19 kills, 13 digs) recorded double-doubles. Texas, though, had more service errors (eight) than aces (five), and the team committed eight errors on the block. Minnesota, meanwhile, hit .264.
“I don’t think we executed at all,” McCoy said. “We had a game plan. I don’t know, I don’t think we really executed it well at a high level. We can do a lot better.”
The loss puts Texas in a similar situation as last year. Over its first 10 matches of the 2016 season, Texas dropped matches to No. 1 Nebraska and No. 6 Wisconsin. UT went onto play in the NCAA title match.
That history was not lost on the Longhorns, who have also been beaten by a Florida team currently ranked second in the nation.
“I feel like we never focus primarily on the preseason just because we don’t know exactly who we are yet,” said Johnson, whose team plays at Texas A&M next Wednesday. “We usually don’t hit our stride until middle of Big 12. I want to say this is heartbreaking or whatever, but it shows what we need to work on, what we need to get better at. We’re going to just get better from here.”
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