With the University of Texas headed to the SEC next season, and no other dates with the Longhorns on the schedule, the Kansas volleyball team is in the midst of preparing for its final crack at its longtime nemesis.
The current KU roster does not include a single player who has defeated the Longhorns, and the 17th-ranked Jayhawks are very aware that this is their last shot at mighty Texas for the foreseeable future.
“We do kind of have a history with Texas,” KU junior Caroline Bien told R1S1 Sports on Tuesday. “We’ve been so, so close before and after we’ve lost it’s like, ‘There’s always next year.’ But now that we don’t really have that, I’d love to beat Texas at least once before they’re gone.”
Doing so will not be easy. Not only are the Longhorns ranked 8th in the current polls, but they also have one of the toughest home-court environments in all of college volleyball.
A few Jayhawks, including Bien, have experience playing at UT’s Gregory Gymnasium, and they’re hoping their past trips will pay off this week.
“The environment is just something you can’t describe,” KU setter Camryn Turner told R1S1. “The fans are literally like five feet away from you and their fans are so loud because they love their volleyball at Texas.”
Added senior middle blocker Kim Whetstone: “I think we’re all very excited. It’s going to be an electric environment and we thrive in electric environments. We’re going to use the crowd’s energy no matter who that energy is directed toward.”
Bien remembers her first time walking into UT’s 4,000-seat volleyball gym.
“It definitely was overwhelming,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve seen this place on TV so many times before.’ You’re just kind of preparing like you’re at any other gym, but it’s also really cool… You’re in a packed gym full of people, everyone’s excited, screaming. That’s definitely a school that has a real home-court advantage.”
Because of that, Bien said KU’s on-court communication will be the biggest key for the Jayhawks this Thursday (7 p.m.) and Friday (7 p.m.) in Austin. Both matches will be televised on The Longhorn Network.
Turner agreed and said, as the team’s setter, she would do everything in her power to remain poised no matter how the matches play out.
“I kind of have to reset after every point just a little bit more, a few more deep breaths,” she said. “Just because the environment will speed you up.”
One past lesson that Turner thinks will come in handy this time around is to spend the rest of this week looking at the showdown with Texas as if it’s just another match. That’s the Jayhawks’ goal every week, Whetstone said. But some weeks that’s easier to do than others.
“I just try and not think about the things that are at stake,” Turner said. “I just try to think about it as another game.”
“It is pretty big, though,” she added, laughing.
The Jayhawks are 6-45 all-time against UT, including a 1-23 mark in road matches and 16 consecutive losses in Austin.
The Jayhawks’ last win in the series came in 2018, when they took down Texas 3-1 in Lawrence. In 2016, when KU outlasted UT for the Big 12 title, the Jayhawks’ picked up their first win over the Longhorns in 13 years after 25 straight losses.
The defending national champion Longhorns enter their final clash with Kansas (12-2 overall, 3-1 Big 12) at 9-3 overall and 4-0 in conference play. UT’s three losses came to No. 3 Stanford (3-0), No. 4 Washington State (3-1) and Long Beach State in the season opener (3-1).
“I feel like we have the team and the pieces to get it done,” Turner said of KU’s chances this week. “People have been testing them quite a bit this season, and I feel like we have the talent to make it happen.”
Added Bien: “We’re not going in there to just compete with Texas. We’re going in to win the games, and that’s kind of a mentality you have to have the whole week leading up to it.”
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