Live volleyball, hooray once again! This matchup figured to be a bit less competitive than last week’s fine Pac-12 matchup between the two LA powerhouses. Texas is pretty clearly the better team. They’re #9 in the current national poll, and Baylor is not ranked nor even named in multiple polls. Texas entered with an active 20-match winning streak against Baylor, and owned a 69-2 all-time advantage in the series coming into tonight’s action.
Though in all likelihood, Texas is probably a team to consider for next season, not this. They have just one senior on their roster, Sha’Dare McNeal, who is curiously listed as ‘Utility’ on the Texas website. I’ve never heard that used to describe a volleyball player before. I guess it means hitter/blocker. She is definitely one of the team’s leaders. Another big scorer for Hook’Em Horns is the imposing 6-foot-3 frame of sophomore outside hitter Haley Eckerman. The third head of the Cerberus is Bailey Webster, a junior outside hitter also measuring in at 6’3″. The Longhorns run a two-setter offense, much like USC, with both Hannah Allison and Nicole Dalton racking up the assists. Dalton also sees action as an outside hitter.
The star of the show for Baylor is senior outside hitter (and lefty swinger…gotta love those lefties) Alyssa Dibbern, one of three seniors on the Bears’ roster. Baylor entered tonight’s match with a 13-3 record to the Longhorns’ 9-3, as the Bears have seemingly substituted quality for quantity. They played their own invitational, Hawaii’s, and two in the state of Louisiana before entering conference play, which they did with a loss to Iowa State in four sets on Saturday night.
All three sets followed a similar script. Eckerman, who’s known as one of the stronger servers in the nation, didn’t have such a good match from the serving line tonight. She opened the match up with a service error, one of four for her on the night. After Baylor’s Torri Campbell gave it back with a service error of her own, the Bears went on an early run, going up 6-2 after a hitting error by McNeal. But that’s when the Longhorns went to work. McNeal and Eckerman both redeemed early mistakes with some strong kills (and McNeal with a strong double block with Khat Bell). A later double block by Hannah Allison and Molly McCage gave Texas their first lead of the set at 9-8. Texas is one of the better blocking teams in the nation, and they showed that tonight. Webster gave the Longhorns their first two-point lead of the set at 12-10, and from there it really tilted in Texas’ favor. After the TV timeout at 15-12, Baylor was forced to call one of their own on 17-12 after McNeal smashed one home from the right side. Everything was going right for the Horns at this point, and two more kills from Eckerman brought us to 19-12. Only a Longhorn service error ended the run, but it was followed by another mini-run, with Eckerman, Bell, and McCage contributing blocks. In the blink of an eye, a neck-and-neck 14-12 squeaker was a 22-13 laugher. The Bears stayed resilient, and closed back to within five on the strength of kills by Laura Jones and Zoe Adom, but another kill from Eckerman closed out the set 25-19.
Campbell put the homestanding Bears on the board first in the second set with a nifty kill off a quick set. The Bears again took an early lead, at 5-2, but again failed to hold it. Texas scored ten of the next twelve points, starting off with a kill from Webster that was set up by Eckerman after the serve from the other side had left the setter Allison out of position. McNeal, McCage, and Eckerman continued their strong blocking in this run. If you’ve done the quick addition, you know that this run culminated with Texas up 12-7. Texas’ advantage wasn’t so pronounced as the set went on, but they did still gradually add to it, eventually claiming a 25-18 second set victory. The closest Baylor came was four, at 16-12, but a Bear service error and Webster from the right side again put them back up six. The Bears tried taking a timeout at that point, but it didn’t do much good. They were simply the second-best team on the court. It was again Eckerman who ended things, hitting it off the block and out to get us to 25-18.
Through the first two sets, Eckerman, Webster, and McNeal remarkably had 25 of Texas’ 27 kills. What’d I tell you about a Cerberus?
And it was more of the same in the third set. The Bears took an early lead, peaking at 7-4, and then gave it up. Color commentator Kelli Tennant, a former USC Trojan, suggested that Baylor was not doing enough to disrupt Texas on serve. It’s not always about aces — you need to get people moving their feet and get them moving toward the ground (basically the exact opposite of where they want to move) in order to disrupt their offense. Campbell had a couple of neat kills to give the Bears their biggest advantage of the third set, first a soft dink and then a powerful smash. From there, however, Texas rattled off seven straight points, on the serve of libero Sarah Palmer. Baylor called timeout when the run extended to 10-7, but Eckerman got the Longhorns the first point back before Campbell finally put one away for the Bears. Baylor nearly drew even again, closing to 12-11 behind the hitting of Dibbern (who had a good third set, but not such a good match for her all in all) and Adom. But the run on Jones’ serve ended with a service error, and the Bears could come no further. Eckerman showed some great ‘hops’ with some back-row kills in the third set.
When it got to 22-16, it looked like the third set score was going to be pretty much like the first two, but Baylor hung tough. Or Texas had trouble finishing, I don’t know, pick your narrative. Kills from Jones and Dibbern, plus errors on the Texas side of the net, got us to 23-20. Adom followed that with an attack error of her own to give the Longhorns their first match point. Perhaps sensibly going with a ‘nothing to lose’ approach, the Bears crowded the front row block on the next two points, rejecting McNeal with a double block and Webster with a triple block. At 24-22, Texas called their own timeout, and a hitting error from Baylor’s Adri Nora ended the proceedings.
#9 Texas d. Baylor (25-19, 25-18, 25-22)
Overall, it was pretty much the match everyone should have expected. Texas was solidly the better team, and the numbers really bear that out. They hit .265 for the match to Baylor’s .050. Campbell and Dibbern both had their best showings in the third set, but both had pretty gruesome hitting stats for the match, with Dibbern notching 6 kills and 4 errors on 15 total swings for a paltry .133 hitting percentage, and Campbell 7/9/20 for a hitting percentage of negative .100 (it happens when you have more errors than kills). The blocking advantage for Texas was also quite apparent, as they scored 10 team blocks to 4.5 for Baylor (the triple block counts as .5 for each player). But it’s pretty simple — you can’t hit .050 as a team and expect to win a match, ever.
Not so much of a hot atmosphere to this one, either. It had only about a third of the attendance as the USC/UCLA match. Maybe people stayed away knowing their homestanding ladies were gonna get beat pretty soundly. Fairweather fan-ism at its very finest.
Texas is now 3-0 in Big 12 conference play, and Baylor is 0-2. The Longhorns next travel to Texas Tech, while the Bears play host to Kansas State. Both of those matches are on Saturday night.