Texas set to take on Texas State Thursday in tournament opener

Evan Berkowitz

Big 12 Freshman of the Year Chiaka Ogbogu remembers watching Texas take on Michigan in the semifinals last year. She played alongside freshman setter Chloe Collins in the Under Armour All-America Volleyball Match & Skills Competition just a day earlier in the same arena — the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky.

She stayed the extra day to watch the team she had committed to join. She remembers sitting in the stands with Collins, getting excited about her future collegiate career.

“[Everything], from [Sarah] Palmers’ defense to Bailey [Webster’s] hitting was amazing,” Ogbogu said. “It was just so exciting to watch. I remember getting chills and thinking about possibly being there next year.”

That opportunity is finally here. The stands are already set up for the first-round matchup against Texas State on Thursday. The top-seeded Longhorns are not fazed. Two days before their first game on the road to a repeat, the atmosphere in Gregory was surprisingly relaxed.

Jokes were being told, and the laughs were loud.

“You got to make sure they are laughing,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “You have to make the journey fun. It can’t be all business and [seriousness].”

The Longhorns are looking to repeat what they did last season when they dog piled in Louisville. But the defending champions are the team everyone wants to
take down.

“We have a big bull’s-eye on our back,” sophomore middle blocker Molly McCage said. “But I don’t think it affects our team. We don’t discuss that we are the number one seed.”

But McCage realizes last year’s run is in the past and that they need to be focused on the tournament this year.  

“It’s definitely not ‘no big deal,’” McCage said. “It’s a huge deal for us to win another national championship. Last year was great and was a great achievement, but that was last year. It’s a whole new year and new team.”

The tournament starts Thursday at 7 p.m. against a Bobcat team Elliott believes is very strong. 

“It’s the best Texas State squad they have ever had,” Elliott said. “We aren’t looking ahead. Our focus is Texas State and Texas State only.”

If the Longhorns beat Texas State, they move on to face the winner of the UTSA-Texas A&M game for a chance to go to the round of 16. The rest of their quarter of the bracket features the No. 8 seed Nebraska, No. 9 seed San Diego, No. 16 seed Duke and the team that Texas knocked off last year for their first title since 1988 — Oregon. 

Tickets are already sold out for Gregory Gym both days.

“I heard people talking about how intimidating Gregory is,” McCage said. “The fact that [the audience] is right on top of the court is a huge advantage.”