Texas sophomore Micaya White (1) serves against TCU at Gregory Gym on Nov. 8, 2017. White has served a team-high 18 aces this year. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Volleyball

As national ranking rises, Texas hopes to ace upcoming tests on the service line

Posted November 14th, 2017

When Texas hosts rival Kansas on Wednesday, it will do so as the No. 2 team in the AVCA’s national poll. What do the pollsters love about the 21-2 Longhorns, who were ranked third last week?

Texas’ 3.29 blocks per set lead the nation.

The Longhorns are hitting .311, a percentage bettered by only seven teams in the NCAA.

Advertisement

Led by libero Cat McCoy — the program’s career leader in digs — and middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu , who’s closing in on UT’s total blocks record, the Longhorns rank 14th nationally in opponents’ hitting percentage (.153).

If you’re looking for a blemish, you might find it at the service line.

Texas has served only 78 aces this season, a total that has been bettered by 326 teams. The Longhorns also have committed 187 service errors.

“Our serving and our passing has been the areas that we’ve really been trying to really shore up,” Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We’ve had good serving matches and some matches where we’ve missed a few too many. What the fans don’t understand is you’ve got to serve tough.”

Freshman setter Ashley Shook downplayed that lack of aces following last week’s sweep of TCU. Shook said it also is important for serves to throw opponents “out of system,” which also factors into Texas’ defensive statistics.

Elliott said he’s OK with two missed serves each game. Three, however, “gets a little bit sketchy, and then when we get into four and five, that’s where it can really start hurting you.”

Outside hitter Micaya White, the team’s only jump server, leads the team with 18 aces. She also has a team-high 54 service errors, and Elliott said her serves were “more risk versus reward, but we’ve got to get it to be a little bit more consistent.”

Texas junior Natalie Gilbert (23) serves against TCU at Gregory Gym on Nov. 8, 2017. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Three other Longhorns — McCoy with 15, Ogbogu with 13 and Lexi Sun with 10 — also have double-digit aces. And Shook, despite three errors committed last week against Iowa State, also drew praise from Elliott.

NCAA rules allow only 15 substitutions per set, so UT’s starters must be able to serve. Elliott, though, has found some room in his rotation for serving specialists like Claire Hahn and Natalie Gilbert.

Gilbert, a junior, has appeared in 34 sets. Using a float serve, she’s recorded four aces, two of which came against then-No. 1 Minnesota. She has five service errors.

In Texas’ 3-1 win over Iowa State, Gilbert was a four-time substitution. (Listed on UT’s roster as a libero, she also subbed in once as a defensive replacement). In three of those sets, she replaced White on a trip to the service line. She filled in once for Ogbogu.

In the fourth set, Gilbert served three straight points to expand Texas’ lead from 15-14 to 18-14. UT clinched the match with a 25-18 win.

“One of my goals at the beginning of the year was to be a servant leader and put my teammates before myself, ” Gilbert said of her role. “I never counted myself out by working toward it every day and grinding.”

Gilbert, who was a high school teammate of Ogbogu’s at Coppell, appeared in only two matches over her first two seasons. In fact, Gilbert was given a chance to serve last year against West Virginia and she “basically tripped on myself and missed my serve.”

Elliott has said he found some playing time for Gilbert earlier this year after a strong week of practice. She said the experience and her teammates have helped her deal with her anxiety. She, in turn, has given UT another option at the service line and “it’s been really fun.”

Texas signs Petersen: Texas announced on Tuesday the signing of Sydney Petersen, a libero from Dike-New Hartford High School in Iowa who joins Southlake Carroll middle blocker Asjia O’Neal in UT’s 2018 recruiting class. Her mother is Northern Iowa volleyball coach Bobbi Petersen. Petersen’s twin sister, Baylee, will play at Northern Iowa.

WEDNESDAY’S MATCH

No. 16 Kansas at No. 2 Texas, 7 p.m., Gregory Gym, LHN

Comments