The Gregory Gym crowd of 2,924 erupted in excitement when the Sun Devils sent the final ball flying into the stands and Texas volleyball secured its ninth straight NCAA Regional Semifinal appearance on Friday night. The No. 6 Longhorns swept Arizona State 3-0 (25-19, 25-20, 25-22) in the NCAA second round match.
“We played very crisp tonight,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “I thought we had great serving, especially with our passers. I think our setters did a nice job in getting our middles very involved and our hitters got on fire. We just were steady tonight. I think we were steady emotionally, we competed extremely well, and we needed to do that to come out with the big win tonight.”
A team effort helped to push the Longhorns past the Sun Devils, as the Longhorns had six players with four kills or more. Sophomore middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu and senior Haley Eckerman lead the Longhorns with 10 kills apiece. Ogbogu made hit at season high .714 hitting percentage, 10-for-14 with no errors, and also helped out on four blocks.
“She’s turned up game to another level in the playoffs,” Elliott said. “It’s important to us. She was going over there middles. I thought the connection with her and Chloe [Collins] was really good. When you’re able to establish that in a game it makes it very difficult for them to set up a defense. I thought she has a spectacular two nights here and I’m proud of her.”
Senior Khat Bell posted seven kills and five blocks, while junior Molly McCage added six kills and six blocks.
Defensively Longhorn Libero freshman Cat McCoy kept the Sun Devils from scoring with her 13 digs on the night. Setters Nicole Dalton and Chloe Collins had 19 and 17 assists respectively.
One factor that seems to keep the Longhorn players even more energized has to do with their Elliott’s energy and positioning in the match.
Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott typically keeps a calm demeanor during matches as he directs his team from a seat close the scorers table at the front of his bench. Recently he’s changed his positioning and more often than not you can find him at the end of the court standing with in the midst of his substitute players, cheering and directing alongside them.
“It helps this group I’ve noticed when I move down to the end of the bench, if I need to put on pom poms I’ll do that too,” Elliott joked. “It’s a lot of fun. That’s what makes this profession so special is the interaction you get to have with the athletes that you coach.”
At one point in the second set when a big block by McCage and Prieto Cereme gave the Longhorns a late lead, Elliott could be seen high fiving and celebrating with his reserves.
“Its pretty cool to have him back there,” Bell said. “It’s just him and it helps push us.”
Along with the good communication his new spot brings, Elliott also said he gets a better view of the action on the court.
“There’s definitely a better view,” Elliott said. “I’ve always wanted to do it, I’ve just never done it. I’m getting a better workout too so it’s good.”
No. 6 Texas now advances on to face either No. 15 national seed Colorado State, Denver or Colorado in NCAA Regional semifinal action on Fri., Dec. 12, at the Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis, Minn. Match time is to be determined.
Action Recap via texassports.com
Neither team could break in front by more than a single point during the early portion of the opening set as both squads battled to a quick 4-4 dead-lock. An Arizona State attack miscue and a block combining Bell and McCage ignited a 5-0 UT run for a 9-4 lead as the Sun Devils were forced to utilize their opening timeout. The break had the desired settling effect for a moment as a kill by junior setter Bianca Arellano ended the Texas spurt. Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, Bell and McCage again set up an impenetrable wall at the net, blocking consecutive swings from junior outside hitter Macey Gardner in improving the advantage to 12-5.
The Maroon & Gold managed to cut the deficit to four at 12-8 via an Arellano stuff and consecutive BreElle Bailey kills and got within 18-15 following a combined Gardner/Whitney Follette block. That was a close as the Sun Devils would get down the stretch, however, as a service miscue and an Eckerman kill restored Texas’ five-point lead. An attack error from ASU sophomore outside hitter McKenzie Willey finished off the opening set as UT prevailed 25-19.
The Longhorns took immediate control of the second set, racing to a 4-1 lead by virtue of a pair of kills from Ogbogu and one from sophomore outside hitter Paulina Prieto Cerame. UT continued to pour it on as Eckerman’s blast and another combined Bell/McCage stuff expanded the advantage to 8-3.
Arizona State continued to hang tough, however, working to cut its deficit to just one at 15-14 courtesy of a Willey strike and combined Bailey/Follette block. After ASU pulled into a tie at 18-all, Prieto Cerame and McCage blocked a Gardner swing to re-take the momentum. That stuff ignited a UT spurt as an Arizona State hitting error and a Bell blast off the block pushed the lead back to three, forcing a Sun Devil timeout. A McCoy service ace finally finished off a decisive 7-2 run as Texas secured set two, 25-20. Over the opening two sets, UT out-hit ASU by a .231-.066 total and was paced offensively by Ogbogu’s seven kills.
Out of the 10-minute break it was Arizona State that held the momentum as Bailey, junior middle blocker Mercedes Binns and Willey powered the Sun Devils to a quick 5-1 advantage. Fresh from a timeout, it was an Ogbogu kill that started UT’s battle out of the early hole. Bell followed soon after by blasting home a kill and followed that up with a dink over the block, cutting the Sun Devil lead to just one at 8-7.
The Horns managed to draw even for the first time during the third set at 10-all courtesy of back-to-back ASU hitting errors. Texas soon nabbed its initial lead at 13-11 off an Eckerman blast that landed just inside the court and a combined Eckerman/Ogbogu stuff. The Burnt Orange & White continued its run as a McCage kill and an Ogbogu ace expanded the gap to four at 16-12. The Maroon & Gold fought back within one at 23-22 before the Longhorns successfully managed to close out the sweep (25-22) via Eckerman’s 10th kill of the match.