Longhorns survive opening round match against pesky Northwestern State

Jacob Martella

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.