Photo by Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Behind a match-high 23-kills by junior All-American Haley Eckerman, head coach Jerritt Elliott picked up his 300th Texas win and the 350th of his career as No. 2 Texas downed No. 14 Illinois 3-2 (25-23, 23-25, 25-13, 24-26, 15-11) to conclude the Illini Classic Saturday night.
Freshman Chiaka Ogbogo came up big in her Texas debut with a kill followed by a block to give the Longhorns a 5-2 lead in the deciding fifth game. Ogbogo and sophomore middle blocker Molly McCage put Texas (5-2) ahead 6-2 with a stuff before Illinois (4-4) pulled back within two. Ahead 7-4 on a kill by Eckerman, Texas gave up a 6-3 run for a 10-all tie. Bailey Webster put the Longhorns on top, 11-10, on her 17th kill of the night, and Amy Neal followed with her fourth before an Illinois hitting error gave Texas a 13-10 cushion en route to the win.
Game one remained neck-and-neck until the Illini pulled ahead on a 4-1 lead to take a 12-8 advantage before the Longhorns capitalized on a string of hitting errors by their opponent and knotted the game at 13. Still tied at 18-all, Webster and Pilar Victoria combined for back-to-back kills and put Texas on top where it remained for the remainder of the set. In a back-and-forth game that saw 11 ties, UT finally put Illinois away on a pair of kills by Webster.
With the Longhorns leading 19-15 in the second set, the Illini went on a late 5-1 run that included three kills by Liz McMahon for a 20-20 tie. Texas crept back on top at 23-22 after an Illinois service error and a kill by middle blocker Khat Bell, but Illinois rallied after a Texas ball handling error and kills by Maddie Mayers and Jocelynn Birks to even the match at 1-1.
Texas commanded the third game from the beginning and raced ahead to a 9-4 advantage when Illinois called its first timeout. The Longhorns went up 13-5 out of the timeout and never looked back while outhitting the Illini .412 (16-2-34) to .069 (8-6-29). Webster led UT with four kills in game three and Bell, McCage and Eckerman added three apiece.
Illinois began the fourth game like Texas had in the previous and pulled ahead 10-6 before the Longhorns used a 6-3 rally to tie the set at 13-all. After breaking the 17-17 tie, the Illini went back up by three on three errors by the Longhorns. Texas answered back and evened the score at 21-all and took the lead at 23-22 on back-to-back kills by Eckerman. UT fought off Illinois’ first set point attempt after the Illini went back ahead 24-23, but Illinois maintained its momentum to force a deciding game five.
Birks led Illinois with 21 kills on the night.
Texas returns to action Sunday, Sept. 22, against No. 12/12 Nebraska in Austin at 1 p.m. Central. General admission tickets remain for the Longhorns’ final tune up before beginning Big 12 Conference action and are available online at TexasSports.com.