Senior Haley Eckerman gets a kill (Photo: courtesy texassports.com).
AUSTIN, Texas – Inside the warm confines of Gregory Gym, No. 2 seed Texas volleyball beat Northwestern State 3-0 (25-21, 25-15, 25-18) on Thursday night to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The Longhorns (24-2) started slow, allowing the Lady Demons (16-17) to stick around through much of the first set. Northwestern State held a 14-12 lead at one point, but then the Longhorns went on a 10-3 run and eventually won 25-21. Texas hit at just a .088 clip in the first set, just higher than Northwestern State’s .033.
“I think obviously there are some nerves in the beginning of the tournament,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said, “and we just pressed a little early on, but didn’t really find our flow until game two. From game two we steadied out, played a little bit more solid and were able to finish the match.”
The Longhorns took an early 6-3 lead in the second set, but Northwestern State battled back take an 8-7 lead. Texas re-took control soon after with successful kills from senior Haley Eckerman, junior Molly McCage and sophomore Paulina Prieto Cerame as well as consecutive service aces by sophomore Chiaka Ogbogu made it 15-10. From there the Longhorns cruised to the 25-15 set victory and took a 2-0 lead in the match.
The Horns jumped to a quick 6-1 lead in the 3rd set thanks to kills by Ogbogu, Molly McCage, Eckerman and Prieto Cerame. Once again, Northwestern State refused to fold under pressure, stringing together a 4-0 run. The teams eventually found themselves tied at 13. Texas gained a five point lead at 20-15, but then let the Lady Demons trim the lead to 20-17. The Horns finished the match with a 5-1 run to win the third set 25-18 and complete the sweep.
Eckerman led the Longhorns in the match with 12 kills, three aces, and three digs, while McCage had a season-high 10 kills on a .450 hitting percentage.
Texas will face Arizona State in the second round of the tournament on Friday night. Elliott and his team know they will face a much tougher opponent in the Sun Devils.
“They manage their game extremely well, and they have one of the best outside hitters in the country,” Elliott said. “They are physical in the middle, and their setter moves the ball around well. I think they are extremely well coached and are going to make us play—they aren’t going to give us free points. I told our team that we are going to have to perform at a much higher level to have a chance to win.”
Texas will face Arizona State in a second round match that will take place at 8 p.m. on Friday night. The Sun Devils beat Texas A&M 3-1 to advance to the second round. Arizona State finished the regular season with a 19-13 record (9-11 Pac-12).