Longhorns survive opening round match against pesky Northwestern State

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Despite a rough night from middle blocker/outside hitter Khat Bell and outside hitter Haley Eckerman, Texas swept Northwestern State to advance in the NCAA tournament.

Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

Coming into Thursday night’s NCAA volleyball match, Texas had earned the top seed in the Minneapolis region while Northwestern State, at 16-16, was only there because it managed to win the Southland Conference Tournament.

But on the court, the match was played as closely as any late-round match can be played.

The Longhorns struggled to shake off the pesky Demons because of both Texas errors and strong play from the visitors, and each set was
a dogfight.

In the end, Texas got the sweep it needed to advance to a second-round date with Arizona State but left with some concerns.

“I told our team we’re going to have to play at a much
higher level than we did tonight to have a chance [against Arizona State],” head coach Jerritt Elliott said.

After the first few points of the match went according to plan, Northwestern State responded with a 6-1 run of its own to take a brief 7-6 lead. But, with the score 14-13 in favor of the Demons, senior outside hitter Haley Eckerman drilled two straight aces to give the Longhorns a 15-14 lead. Texas never looked back and won the set, 25-21, despite a .088
hitting percentage.

The second set was a near copy of the first. Texas took a 5-2 lead before Northwestern State made a run to take an 8-7 lead. Then, with a 13-10 lead, sophomore middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu hit two straight aces to put the set out of reach.

Elliott said the team did a much better job managing its game in the second set.

“We had 14 errors [in the first set], and when you make 14 errors, it’s always going to be close,” Elliott said. “We just talked about managing quality sets, and we felt like Northwestern State would have a hard time if we kept
our numbers.”

The third set was also similar to the first two, as the Longhorns jumped out to a 6-2 lead, only to have the Demons fight right back to tie the set, 13-13, a few minutes later. But, smelling the sweep with a 17-15 lead, Texas went on an 8-3 run, aided by five blocks, to close out the match with a 25-18 set win.

Although Texas walked out with a win, the Longhorns will have much to work on before the second-round match. Texas had 18 attack errors, seven service errors and only out-blocked Northwestern State seven to six.

The Longhorns will square off against Arizona State, which defeated Texas A&M, 3-1, on Thursday. 

“[Tonight] is going to be a big battle, and we’re going to have to perform at a much higher level,” Elliott said.