White, four freshmen too much for Oregon as Texas wins 3-1

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VERT challenge-Texas-NCAA volleyball-Big 12
Texas huddles after beating Oregon

LINCOLN, Neb. — Oregon had more kills, more digs and only one less block.

But the NCAA season opener went to Texas 25-22, 25-23, 22-25, 25-18, largely because the third-ranked Longhorns came back from being down 21-16 in the second set.

“With four freshmen out there, I was pretty pleased with how we performed,” Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said.

Just consider what those four new kids did:

New acquired Croatian outside Katarina Luketic had 14 kills, hit .333, had two digs and three blocks.

Logan Eggleston, had 13 kills, hit .400, and had four digs and a solo block.

Libero Sydney Peterson had 14 digs and served an ace.

And redshirt-freshman Brionne Butler, who has touched 11 feet, had six kills, hit .357, and three blocks, one solo.

And don’t forget the vets.

Junior Micaya White had 13 kills, nine digs and three blocks, one solo.

“I’m super excited,” White said.

Senior middle Morgan Johnson had nine kills, hit .421, had two digs and three blocks.

And sophomore setter Ashley Shook had 50 assists, two aces and two digs.

“We were really good the whole match,” Elliott said. “We had three or four runs that we gave up, but overall I thought our performance was fairly solid.”

White, the 2016 VolleyballMag.com national freshman of the year, agreed.

“I think you could tell that nothing really frazzled us,” White said. “We kept composed.”

Of the freshmen, she said simply, “They’re insane. They don’t play like freshmen at all. Logan is like a redshirt-senior. She’s just a very smart player. And very strong. Can power through a block any time.

“Bri was great. We lost Cat (McCoy), who was a big part of our ball control and it didn’t look like we lost anything because  Sydney just stepped in and it looked like we didn’t lose her. Katarina, we call her Kat, she’s super smart.”

Last season, Texas finished 27-3, which included losing to Florida and beating Oregon in this tournament last year and then losing to Stanford with a final-four bid on the line.

“You always want to win the first match,” Ellliott said. “You never know how it’s going to be, but is makes me more excited about where we can get to. I think we’ve got a lot of room for improvement.”

Saturday, Texas plays Florida and Oregon gets Nebraska.

“I think (Florida) is kind of in the same position as we are. It’s going to be interesting to see how they’re gonna play in this first match.”

He’s looking forward to playing Florida freshman Thayer Hall, who was then a high school player and MVP of the USA team that Elliott coached to the Pan Am Games gold medal in 2017.

“She’s a special player and a special kid and had a great attitude,” Elliott said. “I told her I hoped to see her in the Olympics down the road because she’s got a lot of the same tangibles as what Logan has, too. Those guys can really play the game at a high level, very calm. She’s really good.”

Oregon has to bounce back in a hurry. Second-year coach Matt Ulmer wasn’t happy about that second set.

“You can’t let that one get away from you,” Ulmer said.

But he know how fickle things can be. He saw his Ducks knock off Nebraska in this tournament last year at Florida before losing to Texas. Saturday marks the first time in the four years of this VERT Challenge that Oregon will play the home team.

Bright spots for the Ducks included a big match from right side Willow Johnson, who had 17 kills, hit .517, and had two digs and a block. Lindsey Vander Weide had 14 kills but hit .070, and had 14 digs and four blocks, one solo. And Ronika Stone had 10 kills but hit .111 to go with four digs and three blocks and one solo.

“There was good and bad,” said Johnson, daughter of former Major League pitching great Randy Johnson. “The only bad moments we had was letting up a little bit. After we talked to Matt in the locker room we agree that emotionally and mentally drag off towards the end of games and we just need to learn how to stay emotionally stable the full, entire game and not let towards the very end of sets.”

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