Almost a year ago, Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, was the center of the volleyball world.
Two powerhouses, Texas and Stanford, clashed for all the marbles.
While Texas eventually fell at the hands of Stanford, one player wasn’t able to contribute to the effort: senior middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu.
“It was a hard experience just not being a part of everything we worked toward (last year),” Ogbogu said. “I’m just super excited that I get another chance.”
After sitting out last season due to academic ineligibility, Ogbogu hasn’t shown any signs of rust since her return to the team in 2017.
The 6-foot-2 middle blocker has recorded 250 kills over the course of the season along with a team-high 159 block assists. Apart from her impressive numbers, Ogbogu also became the all-time block-assists leader and is one block away from tying Texas’ all-time block leader. But by no means was Ogbogu’s path to the record book a short one; she modeled her play after the Longhorns before her, almost five years before setting foot on the 40 Acres.
“It’s insane to think about,” Ogbogu said. “I just think about all of the middle blockers I grew up watching when I was in middle school and high school.”
Her presence on the stat sheet as well as the court has helped a Longhorn team with a young core flourish and position itself for a run at the ever-so-elusive national championship.
Along with seniors Ebony Nwanebu and Cat McCoy, Ogbogu has continued to be one of Texas’ leaders in all respects.
With the postseason in full swing, the Longhorns adopted a game-at-a-time mentality so as to not look past any game or opponent. Ogbogu and the rest of the senior class have been an integral part of this adjustment, and they’re making sure younger players take notice.
“What comes with the responsibility of being a senior is that your experience is enough to help out the younger players,” Ogbogu said. “We believe in them, and if they follow our lead, they’re gonna be okay.”
This season has been a grueling one for Texas, who for stretches had two or more road games in one-week spans. This year’s schedule included games from Florida to California, standing out to even experienced players like Ogbogu.
This also had an impact on players’ academics as well. Players were forced to miss exams on campus because of the rigorous traveling schedule and will require academic staff to administer tests at Stanford this weekend.
This weekend’s action sees Texas traveling to yet another hostile environment. Having played in front of capacity crowds against then-No. 17 San Diego, then-No. 12 Florida and then-No. 9 Kansas this year, there’s more excitement than uncertainty heading into this trip to California — and that includes the Longhorns’ underclassmen.
“(It’s) one of the reasons I schedule tough,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “It gets our freshmen acclimated to different and tough environments.”
Ogbogu, who already has three years of road and tournament games under her belt so far, is one of the main reasons the Longhorns head into matchups such as this one with a sense of confidence. It’s more of a challenge than a chore.
“It’s just the excitement of the unknown,” Ogbogu said. “None of us have really played at Stanford. The bigger the crowd, the more exciting it is.”
In her last run for the title, Ogbogu knows each game could be her last, and her focus is similar to that of the team’s: not looking ahead.
With her last few games as a Longhorn coming up, Ogbogu will get to lock in for one last run.
“(This year) was different,” Ogbogu said. “But ultimately, it was to set us up for this moment (to win).”