Fairfield

Photo Credit: Carlos Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

Texas entered Friday’s match against Fairfield with every advantage imaginable. The Longhorns had the depth, the No. 6 seed in the tournament and 3,817 fans at Gregory Gym behind them.

But the Stags were anything but deer in the headlights, fighting tooth and nail with the Longhorns every step of the way.

Fairfield came out firing in the opening set, tying the score at nine and silencing the burnt-orange faithful. So Texas amped things up, feeding off the play of senior middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu.

The Big 12 Player of the Year continued her season-long dominance, recording five kills and leading the Longhorns to a 25-16 victory.

“In the NCAA tournament, there’s a lot of nerves,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “But I thought we were able to settle down, and we got some great production from our middles early on to give us some separation.”

With the momentum back on their side, the Longhorns hit their stride in the second set, dominating Fairfield to take a commanding 17-7 lead.

Fairfield had no answer for the Texas defense, especially on the front line. Five different Longhorns recorded at least one block in the set, stifling the Stags at every turn.

But the feisty road team led by head coach Todd Kress refused to quit, fending off three set points to bring the score to 24-18. Each time the crowd held its breath, ready to explode, and each time they exhaled in frustration.

Junior middle blocker Morgan Johnson finally put an end to the comeback bid, launching a missile through the heart of the Fairfield defense to secure the 25-18 win and take a two-set lead.

“We knew (Fairfield) would fight,” Elliott said. “They got after it, and I have a lot of respect for what Todd (Kress) has done with this program.”

Fairfield finally broke in the third set, as Texas went in for the kill. The Longhorns didn’t allow the Stags to get anything going, and Texas cruised to a 25-17 win to complete the sweep.

Sophomore outside hitter Micaya White finished the match with a team-high 12 kills (.281) in the victory. Ogbogu had an efficient outing, tallying 11 kills on a .917 hitting percentage and adding four blocks as well.

The Longhorns made the most of their chances throughout the night, recording only seven errors and posting a season-high hitting percentage of 66 percent.

“Our communication was just about taking care of what we could take care of,” Ogbogu said. “We focused on being calm on our side and just trying to scrape away points.”

The win sets up a second-round match against NC State at 7 p.m this Saturday at Gregory Gym. The Wolfpack are rolling after earning the program’s first tournament victory on Thursday with a five-set thriller over Oregon State.

But the match will mark Texas’ final home game of the year, and the Longhorns are determined to bid their fans at Gregory Gym farewell with one last win.

“It would mean a lot (to win),” Ogbogu said. “It’s sad to think that this is our last home match at Gregory, but we’re just excited to get out there.”

Photo Credit: Carlos Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

After waltzing their way through the regular season, the Longhorns are ready for the biggest dance of the year.

Texas (24–2, 16–0) is set to open the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday with a home match against a red-hot Fairfield squad (25–6, 18–0) at 7 p.m.

The Stags enter Friday’s match on a 21-game win streak thanks to the strong play of outside hitter Skyler Day. The senior posted a team-high 354 kills in the regular season, propelling Fairfield to its third straight MAAC Championship.

The Longhorns boast an undefeated program record of 30–0 in first-round contests of the NCAA tournament. But Texas has no intentions of letting its guard down come Friday night.

“It’s going to take not overlooking any team,” senior middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu said. “Where people get in trouble is when they start looking ahead, but you just have to focus on who you’re playing next.”

Texas also enters the match with some hardware of its own. The Longhorns enter postseason play as the Big 12 champions, an honor they secured with a perfect 16–0 record in conference play this season.

The burnt orange have been clicking on all cylinders as of late, riding an 18-game win streak behind the play of Ogbogu. The Coppell native recorded 230 kills and a conference-best 160 blocks during the regular season, earning her the Big 12 player of the year award in
the process.

Ogbogu has also been aided by the dynamic freshman duo of outside hitter Lexi Sun and setter Ashley Shook. Sun led the team in kills during the regular season with 313. Shook facilitated with a team-high 994 assists.

Texas’ serving consistency will be the key. The Longhorns committed 214 service errors in the regular season — the fourth-most in the Big 12. However, things could be turning in Texas’ favor. The Longhorns limited service errors late in the season, recording just eight errors in a 3-1 victory over No. 18 Baylor on Nov. 25.

“We’ve got to now do the little things,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “I thought our serving looked much better against Baylor, and we know we can compete against any team in the country.”

The Longhorns could find themselves in an uphill battle later in the bracket should they advance, having been placed in the same region as No. 11 Utah, No. 14 Iowa State and the defending national champions, No. 3 Stanford.

But the Longhorns say they’re up for the task and ready for a third consecutive trip to the NCAA championship match.

“We’ll have to play some very good teams,” Elliott said. “But we’re excited about the opportunity. We’re just ready to go out and play.”