Texas, a volleyball team with five freshmen in its rotation, could have succumbed to the pressure after losing a nice lead, and the first set, against 16th-ranked Kentucky Friday night.
Instead, the No. 6 Longhorns gathered themselves, improved with each subsequent set, and defeated the Wildcats 25-27, 25-21, 25-18, 25-16 in front of 3,702 fans at Gregory Gym.
Texas (5-1) looked comfortable with a 19-13 lead in that first set. Then Kentucky (3-4) rallied, caught a few breaks as well, and managed to win the set despite three straight service errors near the end.
Kentucky scored the last three points of the set, the last two by Leah Edmond, who led the team with 15 kills in the match.
The Longhorns, after reaching a hitting percentage near .700 at one point in the first set, finished with .278.
Texas then improved to .406, .441 and .500 hitting in the last three sets.
“I never felt we lost our composure,” coach Jerritt Elliott said.
Junior Micaya White led the Longhorns with 18 kills. She got stronger as the match progressed.
“Sometimes I just try to see where the defense is playing against me and hit where they’re not,” White said.
Freshman Logan Eggleston had 15 kills for Texas, senior Morgan Johnson made 12, another freshman, Katarina Luketic, added 10. Ashley Shook had 51 assists.
Luketic, a member of the Croatian national team, had 14 kills in each of the Longhorns’ first two matches, victories over nationally ranked Oregon and Florida, while filling in for senior Yaazie Bedart-Ghani, who had a back injury.
Luketic did not play at all in the two matches before Kentucky with Bedart-Ghani back in the lineup at outside hitter.
Elliott elected to give Bedart-Ghani, a preseason, all-Big 12 pick, the night off against Kentucky, and Luketic responded well.
“Kat has been doing a really nice job for us,” Elliott said. “It’s gonna be some competition for those two. I didn’t feel like I was ready to take that job away from Kat. And Yaazie played really well last night (against Texas State).”
Elliott always assembles a difficult non-conference schedule, but he outdid himself this season.
Kentucky was the fourth nationally ranked opponent the Longhorns faced in six matches.
The Longhorns next two are against No. 4 Stanford, in Palo Alto on Tuesday and at Gregory Gym on Friday.
Elliott’s goal with the tough schedule is for the Longhorns to attain a top-four overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, which would enable them to host a regional.
Last year the Longhorns were the No. 5 overall seed and were sent to play at Stanford, where they lost the regional final to the host team in three sets.
“This is the toughest (pre-Big 12) season we’ve ever had,” Elliott said. “Next week is obviously a huge week for us. We thought if we could go 7-1, 6-2 in the preseason, we could potentially host if we take care of the Big 12.”
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