Texas still tops in Big 12 as the Longhorns manhandle No. 1 Baylor

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Texas Baylor 10/24/2019-Jhenna Gabriel-Texas volleyball
Jhenna Gabriel (2) and her Texas teammates celebrate against Baylor/UT Athletics

AUSTIN, Texas — Heading to Wednesday night’s match, Baylor — the only unbeaten team left this season in NCAA Division I women’s volleyball — had never won in Gregory Gymnasium on the campus of the University of Texas.

It still hasn’t won in Gregory.

And it wasn’t even close.

Fourth-ranked Texas (13-2 overall, 7-0) stands alone atop the Big 12 with a 25-19, 25-10, 25-19 defeat of the No. 1 Bears (16-1, 6-1).

Texas is now 84-2 all-time against Baylor — 44-0 at home — and has beaten the Bears 35 times in a row.

While sometimes the stats don’t tell the complete story of a match, Wednesday’s boxscore gives some major hints as to where things went wrong for Baylor.

National player of the year candidate Yossiana Pressley had a match-high 18 kills, but the Bears junior outside hitter also had 11 errors and hit just .171, her third least efficient match of the season.

“I’ve had my shares of ups and downs with playing,” Pressley said. “Lately I haven’t been playing my best.”

“We felt like she was going to get her kills,” Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said. “She’s good enough to be able to get her kills and we just had to be good at lining up on her, be low and tight, and we did that early on and got to her, so it was good.”

But what was a much bigger problem for Baylor than Pressley’s uncharacteristically low hitting efficiency was that the next-highest kill contributor on the Bears’ side was junior setter Hannah Lockin. And it’s not like she was slaying the Longhorns with sneaky dumps and crafty jumbos and surprise swings on two. She finished the match with just four kills.

Middle Shelly Stafford had a measly three kills on 17 attempts and hit minus .176, and opposite Marieke van der Mark and middle Kara McGhee added just two apiece. Gia Milana, who had been playing very well of late, had three kills in 16 swings and hit minus .125.

As a team, the Bears — who entered the match 48-2 in sets this season — hit .084. What’s more, Baylor had one service ace and six errors, while Texas was vicious with nine service aces and just six errors and kept the Bears out of system all match. Five of the Texas aces came from sophomore outside hitter Logan Eggleston.

“What really changed the match tonight was our serving,” Elliott said. “In the spring, we were talking about our first contact a lot and spending a lot of time on it. Tonight, we hit all cylinders with that and got them out of system a ton and just put so much pressure on them.”

The Texas defense was also tough as the Longhorns, who hit .342 themselves, finished with 31 digs and 12 blocks.

“I feel like we did a really good job,” middle blocker Brionne Butler said, crediting UT associate head coach Eric Sullivan. “I know Eric worked really hard on the scouting report and just making sure we know their tendencies.”

Brionne Butler of Texas attacks over the block of Baylor’s Shelly Stafford/UT Athletics

Butler, who missed the team’s first eight matches with a foot injury, must have really studied that scouting report. She led Texas offensively and defensively, putting up 12 kills (hitting .500) and eight blocks.

And the scary thing is, Butler, who led the team in blocks in 2018 and was third in kills, hasn’t even returned to full health yet.

“As of right now, I wouldn’t say I’m back to 100 percent,” she said. “Still really limited, mostly in practice, but I think I’m slowly being able to get to that point.”

Baylor had no answer for the 6-foot-4 sophomore.

“We were late on our blocks with Brionne,” a very hoarse Baylor coach Ryan McGuyre said. “She’s big, strong, physical and we maybe haven’t mimicked defending that enough within our practice. Knowing it’s coming but stopping it are two different things. We didn’t slow her down enough on that.”

Elliott credited his setter, sophomore Jhenna Gabriel, who didn’t even make a hitting attempt but had 29 assists, a block and five digs.

“Offensively, I thought Jhenna set a really good match,” Elliott said. “I thought we were getting good swing after good swing, and we managed our game at a high level. When we do that, we’re really good.”

“It was just great to see everything we’ve been working on so hard actually pay off in a game situation,” Gabriel said, citing serving, defense, and play away from the ball as specific aspects Texas has targeted for improvement. “It’s just like all those little plays adding up and getting the other team a little tired and frustrated because we’re scooping balls and everything.”

Freshman right-side Skylar Fields added five kills and five blocks, while Eggleston matched her ace total with five kills, and senior outside Micaya White led the team with nine digs to go with seven kills — while hitting .333 — and an ace. Freshman middle Asjia O’Neal celebrated her 20th birthday with five kills on eight attempts to hit .500 — not quite as good at her perfect attack percentage versus West Virginia over the weekend, but still pretty good —to go with three digs and three blocks.

The sellout crowd—which included legendary University of Texas women’s basketball and volleyball coach Jody Conradt, ESPN’s Holly Rowe working the sidelines for the Longhorn Network broadcast, and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby — likely deserves a bit of credit as well. Tickets for this match had been sold out since October 9, and the noise inside Gregory was deafening from the start of warmups to well after the final point.

“Hard to say,” McGuyre said when asked if the crowd got to his team. “I think it definitely helped Texas for sure … but we really just never put any pressure on them. They never really had to worry about us.”

Pressley, on the other hand, didn’t hesitate to say yes, the atmosphere contributed to Baylor’s uncharacteristically lackluster performance.

“I feel like we kind of let the crowd get to us because we couldn’t hear each other,” Pressley said. “It’s a great environment. But I don’t know, I just feel like we weren’t fully there and fully engaged.”

The only two matches where Pressley finished with a lower hitting percentage were Texas Tech on October 19 (.135) and Iowa State on October 9 (.156).

“I was fueled before the match, fueled after the match. It’s the same fuel,” Pressley said. “It’s just what we need to do and what we need to work on, so it just ignites us more and helps our focus.”

McGuyre also said he’s noticed vulnerabilities in his team’s game the past few matches.

“Early on (in the season), we were low error, we were very efficient, we weren’t having these misconnects and these were starting to pop their heads up these past couple weeks,” the fifth-year Baylor coach said. “I was hopeful that by Tech we might have righted the ship a little bit more, but I thought Iowa State, Oklahoma at home, TCU, it was not at a level that we need to be in order to be good.”

Across the net, Texas may have been the underdog on paper, but the team certainly didn’t bring an underdog mentality out onto the floor.

“We just always come out and be the hunter and not the hunted,” White said. “No matter if we’re ranked low or ranked higher, we’re going to come at you no matter what.”

Both teams play again Saturday, Texas at Kansas and Baylor home versus West Virginia. The second meeting between Texas and Baylor looms large on November 20, just 10 days before the end of the regular season.

“Hopefully that one is for a Big 12 championship,” McGuyre said. “We want it to mean something. It always means something, we’re trying to play every game one match at a time, but it really means if our seniors want to beat Texas this year, they have to win that one. Because we didn’t win this one.”

Baylor had won tough matches on the road this season, especially when it got everyone’s attention in September with victories at Wisconsin and Marquette.

“We’re a program that is trying to go deeper in the tournament and this was like a final four atmosphere, a lot of hype,” McGuyre said. “A lot of teams that get there for the first time tend to struggle … so my hope is when we are able to host the first round, second round or, Lord willing, go deeper than that, that we can learn from this match.”

Texas, rather, feels good about it’s growth and trajectory since losing at Rice on September 18. Its only other loss was at Stanford.

“You don’t want this drastic increase and then maybe drop towards the end of the season,” White explained. “Just gradually getting better and better and everyday just one percent and so hopefully by tournament time we’re 100.”

Jhenna Gabriel gets hit to set for Texas as the Baylor blockers await/UT Athletics

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