What about all that talent that left the Texas volleyball program after last season? The Longhorns’ freshman class said a collective “so what?” to that worry Friday in a season-opening win against No. 18 Oregon. Third-ranked Texas won 25-22, 25-23, 22-25, 25-18 on the first day of the VERT Challenge.

Five of the 10 players who saw court time Friday were newcomers, including Katarina Luketic (14 kills, .333 hitting percentage) and Logan Eggleston (13, .400).

“They don’t play like they are freshmen at all,” said junior Micaya White, who had 13 kills. “Logan is a very smart player. She’s very strong, can power through a block any day.”

Freshman Sydney Petersen solidified herself at libero with 14 digs and an ace.

Coach Jerritt Elliott said he had never started four freshmen to open the season and thinks this group is perhaps the most skilled he’s had in his 18 seasons.

“Everyone is capable of playing right now. (Before) we’ve had some really good athletes that needed a couple years,” Elliott said.

After falling behind 7-4 in the first set, Texas used a 10-4 run, highlighted by an ace from Ashley Shook and a thunderous kill from Morgan Johnson, to take the lead for good. Three times Oregon, whose 18-12 season ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year, pulled within a point, but the set ended when Ronika Stone’s shot went wide.

Oregon built a 21-15 lead in the second set, but the Longhorns responded with eight straight points. The Ducks had two ball-handling errors and a back row attack error in the decisive run. There was also controversy as Texas tied the set on an Oregon shot that was ruled wide. The Ducks cheered a replay shown on the scoreboard that appeared to show a touch by Texas, but after several minutes of review, the call was upheld.

“I think there were five challenges — three for us and two for them — and I think all five were touched, but (the replay official) couldn’t see any of them,” Oregon coach Matt Ulmer said.

Ulmer felt his team was too cautious throughout the match, particularly at the end of the second set.

“We were careless with the ball, and then we started tightening up,” he said.

Oregon rebounded in the third set, using an 11-3 run to take a 17-13 lead. Texas hit .200 in the set, thanks in part to six attack errors. UT led virtually all of the final set after darting to a 13-8 lead.

Elliott is overhauling Texas’ lineup after losing several key players, particularly on defense, from 2017. Gone are blocks leader Chiaka Ogbogu and digs leader Cat McCoy, as well as Ebony Nwanebu, who was fourth in kills, and Lexi Sun, who transferred to Nebraska after finished second on the team in kills.

Luketic and Eggleston played only on the front row, though Elliott is hopeful both can develop into six-position players.

“I need to continue to get my passing up to my expectations,” Eggleston said. “The pace, the speed, everything has to be tighter than I’m used to.”

Luketic, a member of the Croatian national team, is also adjusting to a higher level of competition.

“It is a lot faster, and the sets, there are more actions than what we have in Europe,” she said.

Texas will play Florida, last year’s national runner-up, at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, the final day of the event.


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