Middle blockers anchor Longhorns attack in American Campus Classic

Michael Shapiro

In this weekend’s opening tournament, the Texas roster came close to mirroring the 2014 Final Four squad. With 10 players returning to Austin, head coach Jerritt Elliott is now fine-tuning his roster to answer questions the Longhorns had going into the season. One of those questions is how to use the five freshmen this year.

Two players Elliott won’t have to answer any questions about are middle blockers. At the position are two of Texas’ marquee players on the front line, junior Chiaka Ogbogu and senior Molly McCage. Both players earned Big 12 preseason honors: McCage was selected to the All-Big 12 preseason team and Ogbogu was named Preseason Player of the Year.

“They’re All–Americans for a reason,” Elliott said. “The two of them have been in this program for a while, and they always provide our team with a spark when we need it. Both of them are players who you can always count on.”

The season kicked off for No. 3 Texas on Friday as it took the court against the unranked Rice Owls in the American Campus Classic at Gregory Gymnasium. The Longhorns continued to dominate over non-conference opponents, where they went 11-2 in 2014. Aside from a sloppy second set, Texas cruised to a straight-set victory over Rice, holding the Owls to a kill percentage of zero in the final set.

McCage and Ogbogu set the tone for the Longhorns in the season opener as the two combined for 16 kills and eight blocks in the victory. McCage’s 10 kills ranked second, trailing only Texas’ senior outside hitter Amy Neal.

After cruising to victory in the first match of the year, the Longhorns were tested by unranked UC-Irvine in the final set of the match. After claiming the first two sets by a margin of 12 and 18 points, respectively, Texas faced a 17–12 deficit in the third set. Elliott sent Ogbogu and McCage to the front line together, and the Longhorns immediately went on a 7-0 run, taking a 19-17 lead en route to a 26–24 third-set victory.

“[McCage and Ogbogu] are two experienced players who can take over games,” Elliott said. “We called their numbers, and they responded for us in a tough spot.”

In the weekend’s final match against unranked LSU, the Longhorns won once again in straight sets, with McCage and Ogbogu attacking the net to the tune of seven kills each. At the tournament’s conclusion, the two middle blockers combined for 44 kills and a combined average of 9 blocks per game to anchor the Texas defense.

Texas will host the VERT Challenge at home beginning Friday. The Longhorns are slated to face off against No. 5 Nebraska on Sept. 4 and No. 4 Florida on Sept. 5.