Facing their first ranked opponent of the season, No. 3 Texas had to fight through five sets to come away with a victory over No. 4 Nebraska Friday night.
Texas was fueled throughout the match by junior opposite hitter Ebony Nwanebu, who registered 22 kills on the evening. Nwanebu started for the Longhorns on Friday, her first-ever start for the burnt orange and white after transferring from USC following the 2014 season.
“It felt great to finally be back on the court,” Nwanebu said. “Having my family out there to watch me got me really got me excited to play for them and play for my state.”
The Longhorns struggled during the first half of the opening set against the Huskers, trailing by a score of 13-10 to open the match. Head coach Jerritt Elliott promptly sent in junior middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu, along with Nwanebu, to patrol the front line of the Longhorns attack after a timeout, fueling a Longhorns 15-4 run en route to a 25-17 first-set victory. Nwanebu and Ogbogu were the stars of the set with three kills each, including a furious kill by Nwanebu to lengthen the Texas lead to 24-17 late in the set.
“When we send them two out there, there isn't a good choice for the defense,” Elliott said. “We haven’t played that lineup very much, and this will only get better for us.”
After Nebraska claimed two of the match’s next three sets, the battle between two of the nation’s premier programs headed to a deciding fifth set. With a raucous crowd on hand at Gregory Gym, the final set was one of high intensity for the two teams in their first true tests of the year.
“I was proud of my team being competitors tonight,” senior middle blocker Molly McCage said. “When it came down to it, everybody was ready to compete. We came out with whatever we had, and it was enough to beat them.”
Nebraska carried the momentum of its 25-23 fourth-set victory to the beginning of the fifth set, taking a 6-3 lead prior to a Longhorn timeout. But the Longhorns were resilient in their first match of the year against a ranked opponent, going on a 12-5 run to claim the set 15-11 and the match 3-2.
“I told them to take a deep breath and take it one point at a time,” Elliott said. “To be down 6-3 and then go on and finish the set 12-5 shows a lot about our team makeup and confidence.”
Texas finishes it’s weekend slate of games against No. 4 Florida on Saturday at 2 p.m.