On a sunny Friday afternoon at Gregory Gym, players slowly made their way out onto the court. Indistinct conversation and the occasional laugh could be heard around the empty stands, and trainers clamored for their players not to take warmups without shoes on.
But through the warmups and every single rep, one thing was evident: This team isn’t the same one that stepped onto the hardwood at the O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida, almost three months ago. Now well into the second half of conference play, the No. 3 Texas Longhorns are firing on all cylinders and riding an 11-game conference win streak.
“We didn’t know who we were when we played Florida,” junior middle blocker Morgan Johnson said. “We’ve all grown a lot closer and we’ve figured out what we’re about, and the trust has just grown so much.”
Texas’ season to this point has included everything from emphatic sweeps to thrilling comebacks and everything in between. On top of that, the Longhorns current record is a game better than what it was at this point last season. As Texas rolls, the expectation of another trip to the Final Four — and the possibility of an NCAA title — loom.
“We have been working on starting off strong from the first point,” freshman outside hitter Lexi Sun said. “Just going from there and doing our jobs each individually (has helped us execute).”
Head coach Jerritt Elliott’s mantra of staying calm and focusing on Texas’ side of the net has been the antidote for the Longhorns’ struggles this season, and it hasn’t only worked when they were on the brink. Just ask Texas Tech or Oklahoma.
“It’s good for us to be in tight situations where there’s stress on us,” Sun said. “We can learn how to deal with it, get out of it and play through it.”
The Longhorns’ winning record didn’t come without a price, though. Texas has played 13 of its 21 games away from Gregory Gym, and players have been forced to miss what any other student has the luxury of going to: class.
And it’s not just the midterms. It’s getting home at 2:20 a.m., hours after playing a game over 600 miles away. It’s getting on a plane to fly home with ice packs still on. The Longhorns’ exhaustive schedule has tested the mettle of the team, which they’ll need to rely on through the NCAA tournament.
But the most difficult part of the Longhorns’ schedule now looks to be over. Texas plays three of its final five games at home, and securing a top spot in the NCAA tournament can extend that stay.
“There’s no other gym like Greg,” Johnson said. “So just being able to be home almost the entire second half is awesome.”
The Longhorns return to action on Wednesday when they host TCU. First serve is set for 7 p.m.